School board elections take place on April and in order to help you make a more informed decision at the polls in this race, which often flies under the radar, we’ve asked each of the seven candidates – running for four seats on the 9-member board (there are eight regional districts and one at-large seat) – to respond to a list of questions and we will run them in the weeks leading up to the April 2 election.
Today, we hear from Tatiana Joseph, who is running against Jaime Alvarado and Angel Sanchez for the seat representing District 6, on the city’s South Side. Peter Blewett, who currently holds that position, is not running for re-election. A map of districts is here. A District 6 primary is slated for Tuesday, Feb. 19.
OnMilwaukee.com: Tell us about your background and how your experience will be an asset to the Milwaukee Public Schools board.
Tatiana Joseph: I was raised on the South Side of Milwaukee. As an immigrant and an English Language Learner I struggled during my first few years of school. Thanks to several fantastic teachers, I was able to successfully learn English and achieve academically. These teachers prepared me for my future, but most importantly, they influenced me to become a teacher. Education has always been and will always be the focus of my life. After high school I attended Marquette University where I studied education and in 2005 earned my Bachelor’s Degree and a certification to teach Spanish.
As a first-year teacher, the inequalities experienced by many of the children in my neighborhood became even more real. Although I was a certified teacher, I did not have the vocabulary and knowledge to combat the injustices and inequalities I observed. As a result, I enrolled in the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Master’s program in Curriculum and Instruction. I focused my studies on ESL/Bilingual education where I hoped to acquire the tools and vocabulary necessary to interrupt the educational disparity in my neighborhood.
After graduating in 2007, I was encouraged to continue my own studies. With more than some hesitation, I applied to the doctoral program at UW-Milwaukee, again focusing my studies in the field I love – education – and this past December I graduated with my Ph.D in Urban Education.
OMC: Are you a graduate of MPS or other public schools? Do you or did you have kids in MPS?
TJ: No, I am not a graduate of MPS. I do not have children.
OMC: What do you think is the biggest issue facing MPS and what is your plan of for dealing with it?
TJ: One of the biggest issues facing MPS is the inadequate funding for public schools. Recent slashes to the educational budget have brought tremendous negative consequences for our public education system. For example, classrooms across the city have increased in size, with 40-plus students, in one room.
This is extremely problematic because a teacher can only provide individual attention and meet the needs of children when he/she has a manageable number of students. Further, the budget cuts have also brought cuts to educational personal: PE, art, music teachers; as well as salary cuts for educational assistant and paraprofessionals, key men and women in many of our classrooms.
It is often easy to identify what the problems with MPS are, however, individuals seldom provide solutions. My solution is clear: we cannot continue to fund educational programs that do not guarantee academic success for our children. We cannot continue to sacrifice the majority of children who attend MPS schools for a small minority that do not. If we want to create a model district, we need to invest in our public schools.
OMC: What is your opinion on the expansion of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program?
TJ: MPS is dealing with a massive budget cut. An expansion would mean additional cuts to funding that could be used to strengthen our public schools. We cannot continue to fund educational programs that do not guarantee academic success for our children.
OMC: Is there an opportunity for MPS to hold on to students and even draw some back via expansion of specialty schools or other means?
TJ: Yes, Milwaukee Public Schools is a district like no other. MPS offers many different programs ranging from technical programs to International Baccalaureate. Families can choose dual language programs, immersion programs, small schools, especially schools … the list of services is endless. Not to mention the after school programs – with the partnerships with CLCs and Boys and Girls Clubs – sports and clubs.
But in order to hold on to students and draw students back we need to ensure that our communities, especially communities were English might not be the first language, or communities where information about our public schools might be lacking or erroneous, have the appropriate information about the schools available to them.
We also need to build community support around our schools so that everyone can see how our children are eager to be part of the community and want to beautify the community. I am thinking in particular of Tech High School; these students and teachers attend community and neighborhood association meetings from the area to form partnerships. I am also thinking about ALBA, Grant and Mitchell Schools that have provided the community with beautiful art pieces.
We need to re-energize our neighborhoods. We need to become informed about our schools and support our schools.
OMC: Do you believe that voucher and charter schools should be held to the same standards and accountability as MPS?
TJ: Yes, all schools that receive public funding should be held to the same standards; should be transparent and accountable. Schools that receive public funding cannot recruit and admit students but later decide that “these children would be better served in a public school.”
This lack of transparency and accountability has become an expenditure to the district of $3 million between September and December of 2012; that cost comes from returning students; students who come back to MPS after attending a non MPS school. The funding used to pay for student tuition at these non MPS schools does not follow the children when they leave. MPS re-enrolls these children, which, of course, comes at an additional cost.
Voucher and charter schools cannot continue to function like this. They need to be held accountable; they should be called into question. And most importantly, they need to stop making false promises to families.
OMC: How will you work to engage parents and neighborhoods in their schools?
TJ: I am a firm believer that schools cannot be successful if they cannot engage parents and neighborhoods. I believe that in order to do so several things need to happen. First and foremost, schools need to provide translation services to parents and neighbors. If a family member or community member cannot communicate, he/she will not feel welcomed. Second, the school needs to take into consideration the hours available for families and community neighbors.
Finally, we need to begin to think of schools as a “community as school” meaning, that we turn our schools into the centers of the community where schools provide not only services to children, but also their families and neighbors.
OMC: How do you think MPS can best expand on the successes in the current system?
TJ: MPS in under a microscope, however, the only things that we ever hear about are the negatives of the district. We need a partnership between community organizations, the media and other stakeholders to ensure that quality, positive information makes it out.
For example, English Language Learners are doing fantastic in MPS! However, this is not known. Or the fact that 90 percent of MPS parents feel that their child’s school is safe and orderly.
We need to re-energize neighborhoods. We need to encourage them to become informed and to support public education.
OMC: How can MPS deal with its massive need for qualified teachers that’s been created in the wake of Act 10?
TJ: To me, this is an area of great concern. I am currently part of a community-led, university-partnered project at UWM whose major concern is bring about more qualified teachers into MPS. This teacher pipeline will work with individuals from different levels; that is people who are paraprofessionals, or transferring from MATC, or people new to the university.
These individuals come into the university and become certified to teach; they will also receive their ESL/Bilingual education certification. The program in equipped with tuition assistance as well as other resources needed to ensure that:
1. Our pre-service teachers graduate, and
2. That we graduate quality teachers who are ready to join MPS.
We need to think outside of the box and begin recruitment efforts.
But MPS also needs to take care of their current teachers, educational assistants and staff. They have many, many talented men and women who have devoted their life to MPS despite all the cuts. They need to protect them and ensure that they have the ability to negotiate and receive fair contracts.
OMC: There has been much discussion in recent years of vacant MPS buildings. What is your opinion on the future of these buildings?
TJ: This is something that needs to be carefully reviewed. We need to weigh in the pros / cons and decide what is best for the district in regards to these vacant buildings.
OMC: Finally, do you think spring school board elections are problematic? Do they guarantee low turnout at the polls?
TJ: I don’t think the timing of the elections is necessarily the problem. While doing doors, the No. 1 question is “what is a school board?” Many people are unaware of what the school board is, or does. I think that in order to get more people at the polls, we need to do a better job with educating our communities about the who’s and what’s of the school board.