I'm putting some key info here at the top, which is that tonight and tomorrow night, you have an opportunity to get to know the candidates in the city's only school board primary:
Coffee with the CandidatesI will definitely be at the Tuesday event, and I will try to be at the "coffee" event tonight, too.
Monday, February 7th
6:30pm, Easter Seals Lodge in Holler Park
5151 S. 6th St., Milwaukee, WI
Tuesday, February 8th
6:00pm-7:45pm, Bay View Library
2566 S. Kinnickinnic Ave., Milwaukee, WI
But I had a chance to sit down with Ed over the weekend for a brief interview, and I wanted to offer some of the reasons why I think Ed will make a great member of the board.
I asked Ed what he thought the top issues facing MPS were, and he didn't even hesitate. "Finances," he said. "People aren't talking about it enough, there's not enough outrage." He said that he's hearing from people the timely concern that state aid to MPS is about to take a big hit under a new state government. "No one wants to cut services," he said, while at the same time, no one wants to see the difference made up in property tax increases. (Aside: You may want to attend this week's MPS board budget meeting, Thursday at 6:30pm at Central Office.)
Ed is very high on GE's recent grant to MPS--$20m+ for better math and science education. "It will help get students excited and interested," he said, which will boost student achievement and graduation rates. And Ed wants more like that. "Business needs qualified employees and consumers," he said, and so local business ought to be willing to partner with MPS more than they do. He wants to pursue that, even if there might be strings attached. "Any viable alternatives have to be considered," he said.
Ed's also interested in using the money we have more efficiently. He wants to develop a strategic plan for unloading excess building capacity in MPS, including looking at underutilized--not just empty!--buildings, and even if that means selling to competing private or charter schools. "We shouldn't be afraid of competition," he said. "We should be the competition." He is "100% against privatizing public employees," he said, but he will seek efficiencies in central office and administration. "We sometimes lose focus when you get above the teacher level," he said.
Other issues Ed's hearing about in the neighborhood: school safety (though he acknowledges that the media does MPS no favors by focusing on the negative and ignoring the positive in our schools); cuts in art, music, and phy-ed; test scores and graduation rates, and parent involvement.
It's the last of these that Ed is most passionate about. He tells the story of Darrell Finch and the work he's done with the Milwaukee Housing Authority's Education initiative. By getting involved in the lives of families living in public housing, Finch has been able to boost parent involvement in their children's education and boost graduation and achievement rates for those students. "If children feel supported by their parents," Ed said, "they will do better in school." Parent education will be a key to this, including, Ed said, taking the education to where the parents live, which is not necessarily where their children go to school. He talked about partnering with the Boys and Girls Club or other groups to offer parent-student tutoring, at the same time, so that parents and children are learning together.
Finally, Ed said that he would work to get the board more often into schools and meeting with parents and teachers at each school at least once a year. Citing Russ Feingold's history of a town hall in every county every year, Ed said that the board ought to be able to do that at every school.
So it seems to me that Ed Heinzelman has his priorities straight and a good vision for what the Milwaukee Board of School Directors ought to be doing differently, particularly when it comes to getting different results at the family level in Milwaukee. It makes me hopeful to see a candidate like Ed talking about exactly these issues and maintaining a positive, pro-family, pro-teacher attitude.