MPS votes on new charter proposed for Lee, but that may end up elsewhere

The Milwaukee Board of School Directors will likely vote on the petition to create a new instrumentality charter school proposed for the former Lee Elementary School building at 9th and Meinecke tonight at its regular monthly meeting at MPS’ Central Services. 

Lee, built in the late 19th century, has been vacant since its program was ended in 2009. In recent months, one plan to open a community school and another plan by St. Marcus — a sectarian voucher school — to purchase the site were floated.

Though the site seems unlikely, the plan seems solid. (Update: the proposal passed at the meeting without discussion.)

On Sept. 29, MPS teacher and school coordinator Shawon Leflore-Turnch submitted a petition for a five-year charter for The Marian Wright Edelman Community School, which, the petition stated:

“will be a school that will initially serve 202 students in Head Start (K3) through fifth grade. Sixth grade will be added in year two, seventh grade will be added in year three, and eighth grade will be added in year four. Our school’s philosophy of education is grounded in three guiding tenets. These core beliefs are central to the educational experiences that we will provide students. The three guiding tenets are: Culturally Responsive Pedagogy, Community Connectedness, and Culturally Responsive Behavior Management & Character Education.”

According to the petition, the teacher-led school would open in fall 2016 and grow to about 300 students by year four, and will offer wraparound services to students and their families.

The program, the petition reads, would be, “A community school based on the proven models and research from the Coalition of Community Schools will serve multiple functions that will help to uplift our community. The Marian Wright Edelman Community School will be a neighborhood ‘hub’ that will provide a high-quality, public school educational option in an underserved neighborhood, social service supports for students, families, and the surrounding community, all the while revitalizing the community and the impacted neighborhood.”

Those enrollment numbers suggest that the school — named for the Children’s Defense Fund founder — wouldn’t be a good fit for Lee, which, with a capacity of anywhere from 513-720 (depending on the measure used), is large enough to house a program at least double the size.

“They definitely want to be on the North Side,” said board member Larry Miller, who is chair of the district’s Student Achievement & School Innovation (SASI) committee. “We’re looking at all of our buildings as possibilities.”

While the district’s charter review panel had some reservations and did not recommend approval when it met on Oct. 8, the discussion was next taken up Oct. 14 at the SASI committee meeting, which heard public testimony on the petition.

“The review panel said, ‘this is a phenomenal educational plan,’ and it is,” Miller said. “But it had operational issues.

“It’s a proposal from two phenomenal MPS teachers (Leflore-Turnch and LaKendra Brown) who brought to the SASI meeting the acceptable answers to those operational issues. We had a very big discussion and they brought a significant community out in support of it and it was a go.”

So, SASI concluded that the full board should discuss the matter and that’s what will happen tonight, and the agenda item notes that SASI recommends board approval of the petition, and suggests that the board also, “direct the Office of Board Governance and the Office of Contracted Schools Services, in conjunction with the City Attorney’s office, to begin contract negotiations, to include flexibility in regard to an ultimate site for the school.”

My two cents? If Lee won’t work, look at the vacant — and gorgeous, Eschweiler-designed — Philipp, on 14th and Olive (near King High), which closed in 2006 and has a capacity of about 350, perfect for a program the size of the one being proposed. Or, I hear McNair might open up…

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