For the past decade, Milwaukee Public Schools enrollment has been falling with each passing year. Ten years ago, the district enrolled just over 90,000 pupils, but by 2012 that number was down to 78,461, a drop of just under 18 percent since 2004.
Then, this year, something curious happened.
Enrollment edged up. Sure, the gain was modest, but beyond the .05 uptick, one must also consider the absence of the annual drop, which ran more than 1,000 students every year for the past nine years.
Something had an effect. Some suggested it was more adept marketing on the part of the district.
Perhaps, too, folks were starting to see the successes at places like Golda Meir, Fernwood and the other Montessori programs, at French and German Immersion, at King and Reagan – which were were named among the top three high schools in the state by U.S. News and World Report recently (Carmen, a district charter, was No. 7 and School of Languages was ranked 12th) – at the nationally recognized ALBA, and at other schools.
One thing we didn’t hear much about was this: Milwaukee Public Schools funded a modest door-to-door campaign by the Milwaukee Center for Teaching, Learning and Public Education – a non-profit related to the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association.
“So $50,000, six organizers, door-to-door, five targeted school neighborhoods, parent organizers, iPads in hand, asking parents, ‘What it would take to get you back? What do you want for your kids?’,” says Amy Mizialko, MTEA’s teacher and learning coordinator, of the program.
The focus was on five schools on the city’s northwest side, including four that are clustered together – Browning Elementary, Byron Kilbourn Elementary, Richard Kluge Elementary, Lancaster School and Sherman Multicultural Arts School.
“The things that we heard from parents were, ‘We want transportation, we want safe schools, we want before and after care.'”
While the canvassing only raised enrollment across the five target schools by 21 students, it was a success on a broader level.
“It is important to note that while working in those areas, the canvassing effort netted a total of 454 applications which included students who opted to enroll in other MPS schools,” said MPS spokesman Tony Tagliavia.
The program was successful enough that the district has doubled the grant for this summer and the Milwaukee Center for Teaching, Learning and Public Education is recruiting canvassers to hit the streets again.
These “parent recruitment specialists” will pound the pavement 20 hours a week from May until the third Friday in September (when official enrollment numbers are recorded).
This year’s target neighborhoods and schools have not yet been revealed, but the center is seeking canvassers who are bilingual, with English and Spanish skills, suggesting some portion of the near South Side will be included.
Mizialko hopes the next MPS superintendent follows this route and continues to work to grow enrollment in the district.
“We have to have a superintendent that has his or her eye on the mark and refuses to bleed it any further,” Mizialko says. “When I think about people who I want to come to Milwaukee to make a long-term commitment to lead this district and to work with parents, families and educators in this district, it has to be somebody who is going to take a stand for a public school solution and all that it entails.”
“Not only (do) we want to grow our population, but we obviously want to improve the experience for all kids in every school.”