Who’s Who in MPS Reform

By Barbara Miner

Following is a summary of organizations involved in school reform. The emphasis is on groups based in the broader community and does not include well-known education groups such as the Milwaukee Teachers Education Association, the UWM-Milwaukee School of Education, or the Parent Teacher Association. The list is not meant to be comprehensive but to provide information on organizations that may not be familiar to the general public.


A newly formed grouping that is formally known as the Milwaukee Minority Ministerial Alliance, this group has quickly become one of the most prominent and important organizations. It is led by Roy Nabors, former alderman and current pastor of Community Baptist Church of Greater Milwaukee, and reportedly represents more than 275 inner-city Milwaukee churches. Other key pastors involved are Clarence Robinson of St. Mark African Methodist Episcopal Church, Archie Ivy, former principal of North Division and currently pastor at New Hope Missionary Baptist Church, and Rolen Womack Jr. of Progressive Baptist Church. The alliance is working on a series of demands — some of which will be part of a package presented to the state legislature — on issues such as smaller classes, summer school and evening programs, a nurse in every school, and an increased emphasis on trade and technical education in MPS (see list p. 24).The alliance has also been working with forces such as the Milwaukee County (AFL-CIO) Labor Council, and political operatives such as Morris Andrews.

The Milwaukee African American Pastors (MAAP), led by Donnie Simms, has also been active on school issues. Simms has publicly parted with some in the Black Ministers Alliance over their criticism of vouchers, but efforts are underway to bring the two groups into a working partnership.


A Washington, D.C. based group that advocates for low-income students, the center is active in Milwaukee through collaborative relationships with organizations such as POWER, the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and the Quality Education Commission. The center is presently planning training for parents interested in serving on local school councils or interested in advocacy roles in school-wide change. It has also worked on school-to-work issues. The main point person for the center’s Milwaukee work is Christine Stoneman.


Often referred to as “The Trust,” it was founded in 1990 by the Greater Milwaukee Committee (a metropolitan-wide civic grouping of CEOs of major corporations). The Trust sponsors business partnerships with metropolitan area schools and provides training and support for parents, including parent centers in 18 MPS schools. One of its current projects is a study of governance, ranging from elected versus appointed school boards to various models of school-based councils and decision-making. The chair of the 50-person board of directors is Linda Stephenson (president of the public relations firm Zigman-Joseph-Stephenson). Executive committee board members include Tom Hefty of United Wisconsin Services (formerly known as Blue Cross) and Bill Randall, retired chairman of First Bank. The president is Debra Kenner.


The Institute was founded in 1995 by former MPS Superintendent Howard Fuller and is located at Marquette University. Its emphasis is on support for voucher schools and charter schools as essential elements in education reform. It has also been involved in providing computer technology instruction in six inner-city churches. In addition to advocacy, the institute sponsors conferences and forums and undertakes research, particularly on the role of teacher unions and matters pertaining to school vouchers. The Institute also houses the Wisconsin Charter School Resource Center, led by Cindy Zautcke. The center is a clearinghouse for charter school planners and operators and is the liaison with institutions authorized to grant charters, such as MATC, UWM-Milwaukee, and the city of Milwaukee.


IWF is a policy research and information center established in 1994 by a coalition of academics, labor organizations, and advocacy groups such as the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families. It produces and distributes information on economic policy issues and coordinates community education campaigns on topics ranging from W-2 to tax policy. On school issues, IWF concentrates on school finance. The board of directors includes UW-Madison Economics Professor Paul Voos, attorney Walt Kelly, and Joanne Ricca of the AFL-CIO. Its executive director is Karen Royster.


The Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce (MMAC), founded in the 1800s, advocates for the business community, particularly on legislation and electoral issues. Education is a key focus, based on concerns for a qualified and skilled workforce. It has lobbied for legislation on vouchers and charter schools and advocates a philosophy of a system of schools that includes public and private institutions. The vice-chair of education is Richard Abdoo (CEO of WEPCO, Wisconsin Electric Power Co.). Members of the education committee include James Keyes, chairman and CEO of Johnson Controls, and James Erickson, CEO of Northwestern Mutual Life. The MMAC chairman of the board is Keyes and the president is Tim Sheehy.


A new organization, Milwaukee Catalyst was known during its initial stages as the Milwaukee School Reform Advocacy Coalition. Milwaukee Catalyst was established as part of a project of Designs for Change, a Chicago-based research and advocacy group, to build similar organizations in Milwaukee, Cleveland, and Detroit. Milwaukee Catalyst focuses on research on how MPS serves its students, and links such research to reform programs based on a commitment to equity and high-achieving urban schools. Active members include Betty Smith, former president of MICAH, Sue Endress of the Exceptional Education Task Force, Jacqueline Ward, formerly with Family Services, and Marilyn Hahn, who had been with the Parent Leadership Academy. The group is in the process of hiring a full-time coordinator.


POWER was started in the fall of 1996 as an advocacy group to provide a voice for parents and students in public and private schools. The student agenda, decided by Milwaukee middle and high school students, will focus on MPS suspension policies and teacher accountability. The parent agenda is still being finalized. POWER was formed by Frank Martinelli, an organizational development consultant, Jacqueline Ward, formerly with Family Services, and Paul Schmitz of Public Allies, a national group which provides leadership training for adults aged 18 to 30 and offers apprenticeships in community groups. POWER is currently housed at The Trust, and the Institute for the Transformation of Learning is its fiscal agent. Its board is roughly split between parent and student representatives. Its newly hired executive director is Tenora Pitts.


The forum is a government watchdog and research think tank in existence since 1913. It regularly issues reports on city, county, and regional policy issues, ranging from light rail and transportation, to tax policies, to budget analyses. The forum recently completed a study of school voucher accountability in Milwaukee and Cleveland. It will also be issuing reports on school accountability and an analysis of the MPS budget. The forum’s Executive Committee is chaired by Thomas Hefty of United Wisconsin Services (formerly known as Blue Cross), and includes members such as Susan Mitchell (The Mitchell Co.), and Roger Schroeder (KPMG Peat Marwick). David Meissner is the executive director.


The commission was founded in 1993 as an outgrowth of a School-to-Work task force appointed by then-superintendent Howard Fuller. Its focus has broadened in recent years to monitor MPS reforms. Currently, the commission is organizing a meeting to bring together the different groups involved in education to try to develop a united agenda. Standing members of the commission include the governor, county executive, the mayor of Milwaukee, and the heads of MATC and UWM-Milwaukee. Other representatives include the Milwaukee County Labor Council, the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, 100 Black Men, and the Private Industry Council. The chair is former school board member David DeBruin and the staff person is Susan Freibert.


Founded in 1986, Rethinking Schools is a nationally distributed quarterly newspaper that focuses on urban school reform, with a particular emphasis on issues of equity and social justice. It is distributed free in the Milwaukee area. It also publishes special booklets on reforming the curriculum and on policy issues such as funding equity. The Milwaukee-based editors are MPS teachers Bob Peterson, Rita Tenorio, Larry Miller, and Kathy Swope.


While not affiliated with any one organization, Rep. Polly Williams (D-Milwaukee) remains active on education. Traditionally linked with voucher issues, in recent months she has cautioned that support for charters and vouchers should not be at the expense of reforming MPS and maintaining a public school system.

There are also a number of multi-issue groups which are active in efforts to reform MPS. These include the Urban League, the NAACP, The Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Legal Action of Wisconsin, and neighborhood groups such as ESHAC and Sherman Park Community Association. Milwaukee Inner-City Churches Allied for Hope (MICAH) has been involved in education but is currently emphasizing substance abuse and economic development issues.

The Milwaukee County Labor Council and Wisconsin Citizen Action (the state’s largest public interest organization) have become increasingly active on MPS issues. The Crusade to Save Our Children — a church-based alliance that provides tutorial, educational, and health services to inner-city children — is also active. Three other groups are Concerned Milwaukee Educators (a caucus in the teachers union), Milwaukee Metropolitan Alliance of Black School Educators, and the Education Committee of Progressive Milwaukee.

Finally, there are groups focusing on private schools, such as Partners Advancing Values in Education (PAVE, which provides low-income scholarships to private schools) and Parents for School Choice, a vouchers lobbying group headed by Zakiyah Courtney.