Future of 68th St. School program up for discussion at public meeting Thursday

The offices of Alds. Michael Murphy and Jim Bohl have organized a public meeting Thursday evening at Milwaukee School of Languages, 8400 W. Burleigh St., to discuss a community proposal to merge the early childhood program of 68th Street School into nearby 81st Street School. (You can find background and links to more background here.)

The meeting begins at 6:30 p.m. and an MPS press release today said administration representatives will be on hand, though it did not name them. Certainly, Regional Executive Director Keith Posley, who has been key in formulating MPS’ competing plan of moving 68th Street School to Kluge, four miles north.

It is not clear if Superintendent Gregory Thornton, who pushed hard for the Kluge merger at last week’s school board meeting, will attend.

Thornton has said that he opposes the 68th and 81st Street Schools merger because the move would displace 90 middle schoolers whose grades (6-8) would be eliminated at 81st Street School. 81st Street School was built to replace the small, overcrowded 68th Street School at the end of the 1940s.

Community members – who hope the merged school would become a neighborhood school – respond that there are a number of other school options in the area for those kids; schools (such as Morse Marshall, Carson Academy and Milwaukee School of Languages) where middle schoolers score better on state exams and where, unlike at 81st Street where they spend all day with a single teacher, they have access to science and other courses.

“As you know, our two-year plan sets aside the 2012-2013 school year so that 81st Street programming is unchanged for those students, and so that they and their families can have a year to decide between other middle school program options,” wrote community member Elisabeth Witt in an email to school board members.

“All changes to enrollment in 2013 would take place at 68th Street School, not 81st Street (for example, reducing the 68th Street K3 program by 67 percent).  Alternative placements for 81st Street middle school students would be two years down the road.”

School board director Jeff Spence, in whose district both schools fall, stood by the community members at last week’s meeting, demanding that the administration give the proposal a fair hearing. He acknowledged that the area has many school-age children who might return to the district to attend a neighborhood focused 81st Street School.

Thornton countered that the voices of 81st Street School middle school students’ families needed to be heard, too.

“Superintendent Gregory Thornton said the district needs to be attentive to those families and communities as well as families and communities throughout the city,” read today’s district news release.

The meeting will offer an opportunity for community members, school families and staffs, the administration and aldermen to speak their peace. It should be an interesting one after last week’s contentious school board debate on the subject.

The next discussion will be at MPS’s Innovation and School Reform Committee meeting on Feb. 14. Public testimony will be heard at that meeting at 52nd and Vliet Streets.

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