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Educators Share Ideas at National Conference in Milwaukee on Urban Schools

Marti Mikkelson

Topics range from enacting Common Core state standards to hiring good teachers.

Hundreds of educators from across the country are meeting in Milwaukee. MPS is hosting the Council of Great City Schools. Its members gather every year to exchange ideas about better educating urban students.

The conference is being held at the Wisconsin Center downtown.

Jack Elsey just exited one workshop and is headed to another. He oversees charter schools in the Chicago Public School district. Elsey says he’s come to Milwaukee to learn about more effective disciplinary practices.

“A lot of the challenges big school districts face are the over-suspending and expulsions of African-American boys in particular and students with disabilities, and that’s something we’ve been looking at in Chicago. I know it’s something LA is looking at and Milwaukee as well, being honest about the data and trying new approaches to address those challenges,” Elsey says.

Elsey says he likes the approaches Milwaukee and Los Angeles are taking. MPS is using methods of reinforcing positive behavior. L.A. has been experimenting with restorative justice – having students who’ve behaved badly, make amends with the people harmed.

Muhidin Warfa is Director of the English Language Learners program in the Minneapolis Public Schools. He came to pick up tips on empowering students of color. Warfa says he’s impressed with Houston’s technique of coaching students to aim high.

“It is very interesting that they have a program that utilizes Teach for America teachers to counsel low income students to get into Ivy League schools and top tier schools. Last year, they said they helped 64 students get into those tough schools,” Warfa says.

Warfa says it’s important for districts to celebrate students who’ve excelled, instead of getting bogged down in failures. Another person attending the conference is Barbara Fuller. She’s a school board member in Wichita, Kansas. Fuller came to offer guidance on hiring quality teachers.

“Many people think they can teach, but you have to have a certain composition of person and a certain understanding of kids. Not only are you dealing with kids, but you’re dealing with parents,” Fuller says.

So, Fuller says, schools should look for individuals with exceptional interpersonal skills. Other desirable qualities include the quality of a candidate’s undergraduate program and their ability to adapt to ever-changing technology.

Marti was a reporter with WUWM from 1999 to 2021.