Becoming a Data Savvy Board Member

By Dave Steele, Director of School Partnerships

The ultimate responsibility of a board member or leader of an independent school is to safeguard one of the most critical functions of our society: the quality education of our children. What does this mean in practice for board members, who are often not education experts, but who nonetheless bring their own unique perspective and expertise? Board members of schools must work in close partnership with executive and instructional leadership to ensure that resources are being used with the end goal of quality in mind. This partnership must be based on transparency and trust, and, above all, informed by good data.

The system by which school leaders, board members, parents and citizens get data on how well schools are educating kids has been in place since the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act. This system has seen changes over the years, most notably in the academic standards we expect our kids to achieve, and, by extension, the tests that we give to measure whether our students are meeting them. But by and large, it’s been the same system for 14 years. The Federal government incentivizes States to give standardized tests to all students, to disaggregate all that data by subgroups, to see, for instance, how kids whose first language is not English do on the test, or how low-income kids do, or how members of different ethnic and racial groups perform. Then, states are expected to make policy decisions based on those findings to drive toward a goal of all kids being proficient on the test. The Federal government has deployed a wide variety of carrots and sticks to incentivize States to drive changes in the classroom. Few would argue that this system has been successful in terms of measurable outcomes.

Recent changes in Wisconsin law, the adoption of new, tougher academic standards, and a potential revision at the national level of the No Child Left Behind Act, serve to change this well-established system. This has ramifications for all schools in all communities, including independent Charter schools and private schools that educate students using public vouchers.

On November 4, 2015, PAVE convened a panel of some of the state’s top experts in assessment and the national and state systems of accountability, a panel that included: Jeff Pertl of the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction; Joe Yeado of the Public Policy Forum; and Bill Hughes of Schools that Can Milwaukee and Alverno College. A packed house of board members and school leaders came to hear the latest on the changes to the accountability system and what these changes mean for how schools measure and achieve their missions. The purpose of the panel discussion was to demystify the assessment and accountability system, beyond the bright lights of politics, and to help school board members and leaders ask the right questions and sift through the reams of data available to them, to best drive quality in the classroom.

Joe Yeado of the Public Policy Forum opened the discussion with a brief overview the Federal role in education, from the original Education and Secondary Education Act, through No Child Left Behind. He also briefly touched on the national and local shift to the Common Core State Standards.

Jeff Pertl then dove head first into the State’s policies on education improvement and the use of assessments to frame and drive this work. Wisconsin’s statewide student population is becoming more diverse, more economically challenged, and focused in fewer school districts. In developing an assessment and reporting system for an entire state, comprised of rural, suburban and urban school districts, the State government must balance between reports that are rich and meaningful, yet not overly complicated or obtuse. In a state with such varied communities, and so many distinctive schools, this is a tall order.

“No one likes testing,” Pertl said, “but without it, we wouldn’t know we have the widest achievement gap in the country.” We must provide parents, school leaders and the public with usable, transparent data on how each school is performing, but the more transparent a reporting mechanism is (that is, the more information it contains) the less usable it becomes, and the less meaningful the comparisons between schools and districts. The State has addressed this balance through several reiterations of the State’s Report Card. The latest version will be released in 2017 and based on the latest State assessments aligned with the Common Core State Standards. For the first time, private schools educating students with public vouchers will be included in these Report Cards.

The presentations and panel discussion highlighted that while school leaders, teachers, board members and parents have access to more meaningful data on student performance than ever before, oftentimes there is a disconnect between the “big data” collected for the purposes of accountability to the State and the “small data” collected at the classroom level. Board members must strike the right balance between “big data” and “small data” when shaping policy.

Bill Hughes emphasized that the Report Card, and the wealth of data therein, can be a powerful tool to communicate to teachers and parents where a school is succeeding and places where it needs additional work.

But board members must go beyond the “big data” of the Report Card and understand what happens day to day in the classrooms of the schools they serve so that they allocate resources to ensure quality instruction. Board members must start with understating the school’s unique instructional vision, the population it serves and the value the school brings.

As board members and leaders of schools, we all seek to answer the critical question: are our kids learning as they should? It’s a simple question with an answer that can be quite complicated. And it’s a question that can be answered with a wealth of data, some of it useful, some of it not as much. We should stay out of the politicized debates about whether our kids are being tested too much or too little, and familiarize ourselves with the assessment data, understand what it can and cannot tell us, and determine which data is most meaningful, so that we can set policies that drive quality in the classroom.

Good governance of schools starts with asking the right questions. Questions include:

  • What is the school’s instructional vision and how do the school’s assessments align with that vision?
  • Do we know the assessments measure what they should, and that the school’s educators can use these assessments to shape instruction?
  • What are the key indicators, beyond test scores, that indicate the school is successfully carrying out its instructional vision?
  • What are the environmental factors (poverty, race, ethnicity and dominant language of students) that might factor into the school achieving its instructional vision? How are these environmental factors measured? How is the school meeting the unique needs of its environment?
  • What are the potential threats to the school’s viability? Are there any regulatory or financial threats?

Stay tuned for future blog posts where I will dive into greater detail about these critical questions and about the variety and usefulness of the data available, including a full review of the State’s revised Report Card.

As board members of schools, we must “get into the weeds,” to understand our schools and how well they are achieving their missions. We must strike the right balance of governance vs. management and work within a spirit of trust and transparency with the schools’ leader. We must not be afraid of “bad” data, and we must learn from “good” data to build quality. It’s a daunting task, but the students and families we serve deserve no less.

School Diversity Matters

By Dave Steele, Director of School Partnerships

I would not be the person I am today without Mr. Taylor’s fifth grade class at Garland Elementary, an MPS School on Milwaukee’s South Side. In Mr. Taylor’s class, where students came from many backgrounds and from all corners of the city, I learned lessons that for many people don’t come until adulthood. I learned how to communicate and build relationships across barriers of culture, language, race, and class. I learned how to be comfortable with differences, to embrace them, and to work across them. These experiences have shaped my personal and professional life in countless ways.

For most of us, school is where we first build meaningful connections with people outside of our family or inner circle. For me, these connections were made in diverse classrooms with kids from many different backgrounds. For many kids today, however, their classrooms are as segregated as ever. Their interactions at an early age are increasingly among kids that are like themselves.

48% of MPS schools and 64% of private schools participating in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program are “intensely segregated,” meaning that 90% or more of the student body is of one race or ethnicity. Milwaukee’s schools are typically as racially and economically homogeneous as the neighborhoods they serve.PAVE school diversityWhile single-race or single income-level schools are increasingly becoming the norm, Studies of school communities across the U.S. offer convincing evidence that low-income students tend to do better academically in diverse environments. Whether this is due to diverse schools having more resources than predominantly low-income schools, or because diverse classrooms may be more steeped in “middle class values,” is still unclear. But we do know that diversity can bring not just social value, but academic value as well.

Being a school that is predominantly low-income or of one race certainly doesn’t guarantee a lack of success. To the contrary, many of these schools are among the best schools in the city with strong track records. And, of course, diversity is certainly no guarantee of school quality. But, among the small group of truly diverse Milwaukee schools stand some of the best educational options in the city, offering examples of what urban education can be.

These diverse schools face unique challenges. In an environment of nearly unlimited choice for parents, diverse schools must strike a balance where both middle-income and low-income parents feel a part of the community, a place where parents of all backgrounds “opt in” to a diverse school culture. Diverse schools can also face unique financial challenges in providing the highest quality experience to students of all income levels.

Those of us who care about education in our city, whether parents, board members of schools, volunteers, or voters, should understand and appreciate the value that diversity can bring to education. We should ask ourselves what we can do to make our schools more diverse settings, through supporting public policies like the Chapter 220 program, or through ensuring that students in our schools are afforded opportunities to meaningfully interact with their peers across racial, cultural, and socioeconomic lines.

And while diverse schools were great for me growing up, they might not have been great for the students who were bused for hours a day across town, sometimes against their will. So while we should celebrate and encourage diversity, let’s ensure that it’s diversity by choice. As board members, we should ask how we can build and maintain a diverse student body by being the kind of school that parents of all backgrounds seek out; a place where students from all backgrounds are welcome and celebrated.

We must create a space to talk about school diversity as a social and academic value for our schools and to celebrate and exemplify those successful examples in our midst. Diversity in and of itself is not a guarantee of school excellence, and will not in and of itself solve our society’s problems, but a diversity of experiences is a critical component for a well-rounded education.

Is Your Board Turning into a House of Cards?

By Joan Feiereisen, Director of Governance & Board Leadership

If scheming politico Frank Underwood in Netflix’s hit show is the role model of one of your board members, you have a major problem.

Is your board turning into a House of Cards?

Most boards, including those we work with through our PAVE Partner School Program, are composed of competent, dedicated individuals who are genuinely passionate about improving the organizations they serve. Board members may ask tough questions, hold the CEO to high standards and require a high degree of accountability, but they should be doing these things if they are doing their jobs well.

However, there are times when a confluence of weak board leadership coupled with a crisis or challenging situation can produce the rogue board member, someone bent on exerting power and influence who can completely derail a board’s work and thus its effectiveness. This is NOT simply the case of a board member who asks challenging questions or makes others uncomfortable by probing deeper into difficult subjects. Much like Kevin Spacey’s character on House of Cards, who plots to manipulate and scheme his way to the Presidency, this kind of board member has a different agenda, often becoming destructive as he or she seeks to build a power base, undermine the principal, and take over the running of the school.

Look for these signs of trouble:

  • One board member’s name dominates the minutes – and the conversation – at every board meeting
  • A board member begins showing up at school on an almost daily basis, usually unannounced
  • Factions begin to develop on the board, with members aligning for and against the rogue member
  • The Board Chair loses control of board meetings, with the rogue member often taking over
  • Some board members resign in frustration
  • The Executive Committee begins to meet more often – and makes more and more of the decisions outside of the normal meeting times in an effort to avoid conflict, and the problematic board member

If one or more of these indicators is present, don’t wait – take action. The Governance Committee should get involved immediately by meeting with the difficult board member to discuss his or her actions, reviewing the role of the board and reminding him or her that deviating from that role will not be tolerated. If the problematic behavior continues, after a final warning is issued, the board member’s resignation should be called for. If the member resists leaving, don’t hesitate to remove the person from the board. Strong action is necessary in these cases to avoid complete disintegration of a board’s effectiveness.

3 Tips to Re-energize Your Board Service in 2015

By Marcela Garcia, Assoc. Director of Governance & Board Leadership

Re-energize your board service

It’s a new year—and with this comes realigning the energy we have to invest in ourselves and others. This includes our New Year resolutions to go back to the gym, spend more quality time with our loved ones, as well as to be more intentional with the use of our “free” time. As individuals who value service and community, it is of the utmost importance that we invest some time in service that is meaningful and rewarding. But let’s keep it real—this can be a challenge. Especially if you are new to board service, you might not know what to expect or how you will be connected. And even if you are seasoned, becoming jaded with the challenges of board service does happen.

So, as I put together on-boarding guides and manuals, and talk to Partner School board members, Board Corps members, and those contemplating board service, I reflect on the lessons that I have learned as we launch the third year of the Board Corps program.

Board Corps members who have already served at least a year were asked to share advice with other program participants during a pinning ceremony that we hosted to celebrate the milestone of having placed more than 50 Board Corps members on our Partner School boards. The advice they shared was very practical and can be categorized into three important areas.

Don’t stop learning

  • Make the time to attend the ongoing education opportunities – PAVE’s training are first class and will benefit both you and the school.
  • Be prepared to listen and learn, but don’t be afraid to participate. You have a lot to offer so don’t hold back.
  • Do not be afraid to step out of your comfort zone and take a risk.

Find ways to connect your intellect and heart to the mission of the school 

  • Patience and empathy will go a long way when working through conflicting ideas.
  • Make sure you believe in the culture and mission of the school. Visit during the school day, get to know the teachers and students.
  • Go into the process with an open mind and open heart.

Be patient

  • It takes time; schools can’t be turned around overnight.
  • Be open to taking on new and different challenges that take you outside your comfort zone and allow you to grow!
  • You’ll always get more out of it then you put in.

As we get re-energized, and find ways to make our work significant, it is important that we connect our intellect and heart to the work we do. How are you making this happen in 2015?​

New Year, More Work to Be Done

By Michelle Burmeister, Communications Director

Every January we look forward to sharing PAVE’s Annual Report. It’s an important time for us to reflect back on what has been accomplished the year before, and is a solid reminder of all the work that still needs to be done.

Like reports of the past, this year PAVE will highlight three Partner Schools who are making a difference in their communities and empowering students to aim higher and defy odds. We’re also excited to provide an update on the success of Board Corps, as well as share more information with you about other services and resources that PAVE provides.

The last few months of planning and writing our annual report have been a great time for me as the Communications Director to encourage the PAVE team to acknowledge and articulate the breadth and depth of work we’re doing with 57 Partner Schools. Much of this work includes time with our schools and their boards lending expertise in areas such as facilitating strategic planning sessions, assisting in the development of marketing plans, coaching on fundraising and development, and even providing graphic design support. You’ll find out about those activities and many other ways PAVE supports Milwaukee’s high-potential schools in our 2014 Annual Report.

This year we’ve put together a printed annual report booklet, but take the stories and information to a deeper level via a new online platform that we can’t wait to share. It’ll all be ready in a few weeks and we’ll share the link with you soon. In the meantime, I encourage you to glance at our Annual Reports from the past. They include videos of some of our Partner Schools in action, like this 2013 video of Milwaukee Collegiate Academy:

So, Happy New Year and what projects are you looking forward to diving into in 2015?

Board Diversity – Representing the Populations You Serve

By Marcela Garcia, Associate Director of Governance & Board Leadership

I have sat around many board tables—through my work serving on non-profit boards as well as an adviser—analyzing systems, structures, and culture and how these affect organizational operations. Through my observations and my lived experience, the lack of diversity of folks around those tables is still alarming—whether that is a metric that looks at race, gender, age, sexual orientation, or expertise. However, this is not new information since not much of a dent has been made to change this in the last decade. We know that board diversity is lagging in almost every sector, non-profit and corporate. Within the non-profit sector 86% of nonprofit board members nationwide are White.

Diversity in the Boardroom

With 30 years since the court-ordered school desegregation was implemented in Milwaukee, students of color composed 86.4% of the 2013-2014 student enrollment within our public school district; 93.8% of the enrollment at independent charter schools; and 78% of private school enrollment for the same school year. With student demographics like these, it is only natural to question why the board representation of these institutions do not resemble the populations they serve. The education system in my city continues to be inequitable for countless kids and youth. Especially for those kids living at or below the poverty level, and for brown and black kids. The socioeconomic disparities in Milwaukee are very visible. As a result, the challenges with board service can be very intimidating, and at times, uncomfortable.

Here are four tips to keep in mind as you are reflecting on your board service, or on your interest to get involved.

1.       The savior mentality is dangerous. As leaders, we not only have to acknowledge our privilege, but learn how to challenge it within ourselves and to others. Our function as a board member is not to “save” the communities in which we work. Marginalized communities are not empty vessels that are waiting for your pouring—stop flattering yourself.

2.       Representation is not enough. Just because a board is tracking the progress of the numbers (number of women, African-Americans, Latinos, LGTBQ, under 30 years old, etc.) on the board does not mean that it is addressing gaps within its structure, nor creating a culture that embraces diversity as an organizational value. Keep in mind that bringing diverse leadership on board will not single-handedly empower the marginalized. It’s not just about the numbers, people!

3.       Finding leadership for your board is not like ordering a hamburger. “I’ll take a young Black or Latino, with a side of some board service.” Doesn’t that just sound awful? Remember that the characteristics that contribute to diversity can be either visible or invisible. When considering new board members, it is important to aim to build bridges that connect your organization to networks that perhaps have not before been built or crossed. Being intentional and keeping the future needs of your organization in mind while considering perspective board members is important.

4.       If it’s not in the organization fabric, it will not be sustainable. The value of what diversity brings to an organization has to be operative and integrated into the fabric of the organization. Institutional buy-in has to happen for long-term sustainability. This is not the responsibility of one person in the organization, nor that of a committee. There has to be a plan to insure that this diverse leadership is involved, respected, valued, and connected to the mission of the organization.

As the second year of Board Corps comes to an end, I am very hopeful that PAVE’s Board Corps Program will continue to make a difference in the way boards are built and sustained. Since 25% of our program applicants self-identified as a racial/ethnic minority, 51% as women, and 64% as 40 years and younger, I am confident that change will begin to be felt and seen across many more board tables in Milwaukee.

Lessons from the Corporation – 3 Compelling Reasons Why It Pays to Have Women on Your Board

By Joan Feiereisen, Director of Governance & Board Leadership

Women on Boards of Directors

We all instinctively know it’s better to have a board that’s gender-diverse. But why? At the recent BoardSource Leadership Forum in Washington, D.C., Dr. Margaret Reid from the University of Arkansas examined research from for-profit companies that showed why having the female perspective is not just politically correct, but also makes good business sense.

  • Women directors mean more profits – In a study on corporate performance and women’s representation on boards of directors (Carter and Wagner, Catalyst – 2004-2008), companies with three or more women on their boards outperformed those with zero women by 84%. Another study found that having at least one woman on a board decreases bankruptcy by a full 20% (Wilson and Atlantar, 2009).
  • Having women on boards leads to more ethical behavior – Companies with more women on their boards see better corporate governance and ethical behavior (Franke, 1997). It isn’t so much that women are necessarily more honest, but they tend to ask more questions, thus uncovering issues that boards should be addressing.
  • It never pays to marginalize half the population – Corporations have realized that not having females represented on their boards leads to losing a critical opinion and voice. If women feel shut out from decision-making, they are less likely to support an organization that doesn’t value a feminine perspective.

How does the business case parallel schools? While businesses may lose perspective on their products and services without women involved at a high level, schools can miss out on important insight on everything from parent involvement to fundraising strategy to marketing ideas. They also may not be hearing all of those hard-hitting questions women are likely to pose.

Unfortunately, businesses aren’t paying enough attention to the research. Recent statistics show that right here in our state, only 15.5% of board seats in Wisconsin’s top 50 companies are held by women. The Greater Milwaukee Committee is joining forces with Milwaukee Women Inc. in their goal to increase that number substantially.

PAVE recognized early on that it was important to have diverse boards governing schools. Our Board Corps is far ahead of the curve when it comes to recruiting women to serve on school boards. 50% of PAVE’s Board Corps members are female and will be productively adding their insight and perspective to our Partner Schools in the coming years. Lessons definitely learned!

Arts Education Isn’t an “Extra” Curricular

By Marcela Garcia, Assoc. Director of Governance & Board Leadership

Imagination is one of the most powerful elements we can possess. Whether it is applied to the way we envision initiatives, the way we communicate — the arrangement of words, the organization of sounds — or the way we interact with the intentional creation of “the new.” In a time when resources are limited, innovation and creativity are required in all sectors, nonprofit and for-profit alike.

As someone who has been a part of visual and performing arts programs since grade-school, I have lived through the transformational experiences that these school clubs, art classes, or neighborhood art centers can offer children—especially during a critical time of identity formation. Interpreting the world around us provides the platform for reflexivity (reflection upon what is happening in terms of one’s own values and interests), which enhances critical thinking skills, cognitive ability, and verbal skills. It has also been noted that motivation, concentration, confidence, and teamwork are also enriched through involvement in the arts.

St. Joan Antida Student in Art Class

However, there is a problem. The arts education landscape across the United States has been in steady decline since the 1970’s. With decreasing school budgets and an added focus on state mandated testing, arts programs are not viewed as essential and the options for delivering art programs have become restricted.

In April of this year, the Herzfeld Foundation commissioned the Public Policy Forum to conduct exploratory research on how public and private resources are uniting to create systems that grow arts education and its delivery. The disproportion of arts accessibility is real, and this accessibility very much depends on the school a child attends, the neighborhood in which he/she lives and his/her family’s socio-economic status. These facts are very troubling to me and should be for our entire community.

As a practicing written and visual arts artist, I am an arts advocate who is interested in the structure, governance, and accountability of organizations that are developing solutions to this dilemma. I recently accepted a Mayoral appointment to the Milwaukee Arts Board, and currently serve on the board of Artist Working in Education. These opportunities have given me an insider’s look into the challenges and opportunities for collaborations between business and civic leaders, schools, arts organizations, artists, funders, and parents.

PAVE has coordinated long-term partnerships with community and arts organizations such as First Stage and the Milwaukee Art Museum. As a liaison that facilitates learning and enrichment offerings for interested Partner Schools, PAVE has seen remarkable programs within these collaborations. Take Lutheran Specials School & Education Services (LSSES) as an example.

In partnership with WE Energies and the Milwaukee Art Museum (MAM), we distributed funds that supported LSSES’ visionary leadership, which developed a unique experiential multi-sensory curriculum (MOSAICS) that would open new methods for engaging children who have difficulty learning through traditional methods. Over a three-year period, LSSES incorporated kinesthetic arts (movement), visual arts, and performing arts (theatrical and musical) into the core curriculum. As the program has unfolded, students have received the opportunity to serve as “docents,” unveil their artwork to the community, and to engage in visual storytelling—check out Awesome Kids; Awesome Art 2 and watch their digital stories!

Lutheran Special School Arts Program

It is in the interest of society that we enhance the quality, the availability, and access to arts education in Milwaukee through innovative and collaborative approaches. As Albert Einstein said, “Logic will get you from A to Z; imagination will get you everywhere.” It is time that we let our imaginations roam if we expect to get improved results for the children of Milwaukee.

How has your involvement in the arts impacted your education and/or career? Have you seen the arts positively influence a child? Please share your stories in the comments section below.

(P.S. The PAVE Team spent two days last week attending the BoardSource Leadership Forum. We’re compiling our notes and will be bringing you some awesome content on the blog over the next few weeks.)

More to Academic Oversight than Academics

By Michelle Burmeister, Communications Director

This morning, PAVE hosted more than 50 Milwaukee school leaders, board members, and community members at a panel discussion about Board Oversight of Academic Programming. Our three panelists are exceptional leaders and subject matter experts in the world of K-12 education:

Dr. Hughes, Dr. Hoben, Mr. Rauh

Dr. Hughes, Dr. Hoben, Mr. Rauh

All of the panelists prefaced the discussion with an overview of their experiences and approaches to providing their boards with academic information (and what they expect them to do with that data), along with information about the different ways academic performance is being measured in today’s schools – WKCE vs. ACT vs. MAP, etc.

The group answered questions about the board’s involvement in boosting a school from good to great and what type of board support appropriately helps improve student achievement.

Themes that were consistent throughout the academic oversight discussion included conversation about culture and the importance of culture indicators together with academic performance measures (and how one influences the other), along with school leadership – how do you know you have the “right” leader?

Did you attend the panel discussion? If so, what were your biggest takeaways? Please leave a comment below.

If you’re a leader or a board member of a PAVE Partner School or a member of Board Corps who was not able to attend the event and would like access to the panel discussion podcast, email (The podcast will only be available to PAVE Partner Schools / Board Corps and other event attendees, but please follow PAVE on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn for information about future events.)

Board Oversight of Academic Programming


Solving the “Unsolvable” Problems

By Dave Steele, Director of School Partnerships

My plane tickets are booked and my hotel room is reserved. I’m going back to Guatemala this November for the third time, this time for my cousin’s wedding. It’s a chance to reconnect with my family and my father’s home country, a place of incredible beauty.

Guatemala is rich with diverse cultures and amazing natural scenery, but it’s hard for me to visit without a heavy heart. One of the poorest countries in the Western hemisphere, Guatemala suffers from conditions all too common in developing countries. Perhaps most vexing is that things do not have to be this way. The people of Guatemala have reason to hope for the future, but currently many of those hopes remain unrealized.

Donating money to organizations that provide food or health care is helpful, but is it a lasting solution? Could I write a check that would give Guatemala a fair justice system, root out corruption, or build a civil society of its own? Global poverty is so complex is seems unsolvable. It has many root causes and no easily identifiable solutions. There is not one single program or solution that can fix it.

For nearly the past decade I have devoted my energies to another “unsolvable” problem: the education of children who live in pervasive poverty in Milwaukee. I wouldn’t compare the suffering of the developing world with the suffering of my fellow Milwaukeeans, but similarities do exist. The problems of global poverty and under-performing urban education in the United States both have multiple underlying causes and no singular, easily identifiable solution. Both have been addressed through multiple means and approaches by many different organizations. And both, unfortunately, lead many to a sense of hopelessness. It has taken generations for these problems to develop and at first glance they may seem unsolvable.Solving Unsolvable Problems in Milwaukee

But, I believe progress can be made with the focused actions of individuals working together toward a common vision. For instance, we know that one of the root causes of poverty in developing countries is a high illiteracy rate, especially among women. Accordingly, efforts have arisen all over the world to educate women in developing countries. Will improving the illiteracy rate among women, on its own, lift countries out of poverty? No. But efforts to educate women, in concert with other initiatives that address the many different root causes of poverty, will make a positive impact and help provide conditions that support lifting a nation out of poverty.

We must take a similar approach to addressing our seemingly unsolvable problems here in our own communities in the United States. There is not one cause, nor is there one solution.

Most importantly, the solutions to the problem of under-performing K-12 education, like the solutions to global poverty, must come from the communities themselves. School by school, community by community, we need to take ownership, set high expectations, and demand quality. PAVE’s approach is to work closely with school communities to articulate a vision for success and equip them with the resources to drive that change. There isn’t a magic formula we can apply to all of our Partner Schools that will remove their challenges and launch them to greatness. Each school community we support is unique, and 55 schools require 55 different approaches.

Not one American city has solved the problem of under-performing K-12 schools. But, several have made significant progress by leveraging partnerships among schools and supporting organizations, broad-based community buy-in, and a common vision. I have no doubt that Milwaukee, like Guatemala, can and will tap into its deep well of resources and will take the necessary steps to solve a problem that seems unsolvable. It will take all of us — school leaders, board members, volunteers, and concerned citizens — each focused on our unique part of the solution, with an eye toward a vision for a better future.

PAVE Tops $100 Million in School Expansion Projects

By Michelle Burmeister, Communications Director

PAVE invests financial and human capital in high-potential Partner Schools in Milwaukee, and as the new school year begins our board is pleased to announce that PAVE has participated in over $100 million in successful school expansion projects since 2001.

PAVE has directly contributed $5.2 million in the form of planning and challenge grants and provided $18.1 million in loans for the growth and expansion of 30 different school networks in Milwaukee. Other financing partners that PAVE has built relationships with over the years – banks, insurance companies, IFF, and many others – have been critical partners in these projects that now have a total value of over $100 million.

PAVE’s Capital Investment Program was launched by a $16 million grant from our greatest partner in expanding high potential, value-based and community centered schools – The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation.

After providing $24 million in scholarships between 1992 and 2001 that enabled children from low-income families to attend Milwaukee’s private schools, PAVE recognized the need to expand effective schools since they often had to turn students away for lack of space. St. Marcus Lutheran School was PAVE’s first major successful project. Pastor Mark Jeske was the visionary leader who worked for two years to develop support for a new school facility with PAVE‘s assistance.

“PAVE was so helpful providing technical assistance and a $150,000 challenge grant, and then enabling us to obtain a very favorable loan,” said Pastor Jeske. “In fact, our whole financing package would not have happened without PAVE.”

St. Marcus Lutheran School

St. Marcus Lutheran School

From capital investments and loans, to building the capacity for volunteer leadership and accountability in Milwaukee schools, PAVE continues to evolve to provide high potential schools with the resources necessary to achieve their visions. “Over the years we have been successful working behind the scenes, while highlighting our Partner Schools who deserve recognition for educating Milwaukee’s children—and the significance of almost $100 million invested in high quality educational opportunities is something we’re proud to celebrate,” said Dan McKinley, President of PAVE.

The recent expansion of Notre Dame Middle School is the project that brought PAVE’s Capital Investment Program to over $100 million in total value. PAVE’s support of Notre Dame’s expansion also highlights our emerging focus on providing a diverse mix of governance and organizational capacity building services to help create and sustain high-performing school organizations.

PAVE was instrumental in facilitating the strategic plan carried out by Notre Dame’s board, as well as providing $1 million in low-cost financing for the renovation of a school building that will accommodate the new students.

Mary McIntosh, President of Notre Dame Middle School, articulates PAVE’s impact best: “Three years ago, PAVE helped guide us through a strategic planning process where the idea for Notre Dame Primary School was sparked. Within a year, we opened the co-educational primary school and today we have a full K5 through 8th grade school, allowing us to increase the number of deserving students we educate from 119 in 2008 to 370 this school year. Our entire school community is grateful to our friends at PAVE for their partnership and support over many years.”

Notre Dame Primary School

55 Milwaukee Schools Have This In Common

By Michelle Burmeister, Communications Director

They’re 2014 – 2015 PAVE Partner Schools!

55 PAVE Partner Schools

PAVE will be working with 38 Partner School networks, consisting of 55 schools, during the 2014 – 2015 school year. We’re proud to call these schools Partners and support quality education for close to 24,000 Milwaukee students.

  • Atonement Lutheran School
  • Bruce-Guadalupe Community School
  • Business and Economics Academy of Milwaukee, Inc. (BEAM)
  • Capitol West Academy
  • Central City Cyberschool of Milwaukee
  • Dominican High School
  • Eastbrook Academy
  • Highland Community School
  • Hillel Academy
  • Hmong American Peace Academy
  • HOPE Christian Schools (Prima, Fortis, Hope Christian High School)
  • King’s Academy
  • La Causa
  • LUMIN (Concordia University School and Pilgrim Campus, Northwest, Sherman Park, St. Martini)
  • Lutheran Special School
  • Malaika Early Learning Center
  • Messmer Catholic Schools (High School, Preparatory, St. Rose, St. Leo)
  • Milwaukee Academy of Science
  • Milwaukee College Prep (36th Street, 38th Street, Lloyd Street)
  • Milwaukee Collegiate Academy
  • Milwaukee Environmental Sciences
  • Mount Lebanon Lutheran School
  • Nativity Jesuit Middle School
  • Northwest Catholic
  • Notre Dame Middle School
  • Pius XI High School
  • Risen Savior Lutheran School
  • Seeds of Health (Veritas High School, Windlake Academy, Windlake Elementary, Grandview High School, MC2 High School, Tenor High School)
  • St. Anthony School of Milwaukee
  • St. Coletta Day School of Milwaukee
  • St. Joan Antida High School
  • St. Marcus Lutheran School
  • St. Thomas More High School
  • St. Vincent Pallotti Catholic School
  • Tamarack Waldorf School
  • Urban Day School
  • Wisconsin Lutheran High School
  • Woodlands School (Bluemound Road and Woodlands East)

These schools have completed PAVE’s assessment process and we carefully and thoroughly look at the current state of the school, as well as its long-term potential. More on that process here in Dave Steele’s blog post How Good Is My School?

Each school has unique successes and challenges and our work with them over the next two years will be varied and vast. Our wheelhouse of expertise lies in a few different areas, not including curriculum development or teacher coaching – we leave those things up to the various other highly capable school support organizations in Milwaukee. PAVE has expertise in supporting the organizational / business side of things at a school. This includes:

  1. Advisory Services (provided by PAVE staff – board development, fund development, communication, search committee participation)
  2. Outside Consultant Services (connected by PAVE and 90% funded)
  3. Board Corps – recruiting, training, and connecting professionals to serve on the boards of our Partner Schools
  4. Community Connections (i.e. First Stage and/or Milwaukee Art Museum)
  5. Providing funding for school growth, improvement, and innovative programming

(Visit for more details on each of these areas.)

Some of our schools need PAVE’s support in all of these areas and others in perhaps just one or two. We connect with schools wherever they are on their journey to becoming, sustaining, or surpassing “great.”

With which PAVE Partner School(s) are you familiar? Share in the comments and tell us what’s great about your school!

How Good Is My School?

By Dave Steele, Director of School Partnerships

PAVE's Assessment Process

As a parent myself, and a proud Milwaukeean, I know that the question “how good is my kid’s school?” weighs heavily on parents’ minds across our great city. I also know that my ultimate measure of the quality of a school is whether or not I would send one of my two boys there. When evaluating a potential school, a parent wants to know whether their child will receive the highest quality instruction in a productive, engaging and caring environment.

PAVE’s process of assessing our Partner Schools is not altogether different from how a parent chooses the best school for their child, but we go deeper. We consider not only the current state of a school, but its long term potential. We evaluate whether a school is a healthy organization where changes in personnel and other circumstances won’t significantly impact its core mission of educating kids. Where a strong board of directors, working in close partnership with parents, community and staff, articulate a clear vision for educational excellence, allocate resources wisely, and hold themselves and their head of school accountable for results. It’s these indicators of organizational health that PAVE considers when assessing potential new Partner Schools and guiding existing partnerships.

For most of us, the ultimate indicator of whether a school is good is the test scores that a school produces. This makes intuitive sense. If we want to know whether students are learning, we consider first and foremost their test scores. But if we evaluate a school solely on test scores, which test scores should we put more weight on? The State’s standardized test, tests that reflect national benchmarks like Iowa Test of Basic Skills, college entrance exams like the ACT? And how should we evaluate schools with non-traditional approaches such as Montessori programs or schools that serve primarily students with special learning needs? And consider schools that have taken on very difficult missions, such as high schools serving high percentages of students entering 9th grade well below grade level?

Suddenly a simple sounding question — “how good is my school?” — has a very complex answer. Schools must be held accountable for results, but a one-size-fits-all approach to evaluating schools misses a lot of great work going in a diverse array of schools serving the diverse needs of our communities.

At PAVE, we believe that lasting change in Milwaukee education will require sustained excellence at each school serving kids in Milwaukee. We meet each of our Partner School organizations where they are, and seek to provide them with the resources to help their boards and organizations successfully achieve their missions. To do this work we must understand each school as a unique organization. While all schools share a common goal, each school has unique assets and faces unique challenges. PAVE’s assessment process is based on our 20 years of experience in working to develop excellent urban schools, and is our method of evaluating potential partnerships, as well as guiding our work with each school we partner with.

Ultimately, a community decides whether a school is doing its job. This community is made up of parents, community supporters, board members, and school leaders, who agree on the school’s educational vision. PAVE’s Assessment Process seizes upon this unique vision for each school, helps boards define those goals aligned to that vision, and, allows PAVE to deploy those necessary resources, partnerships, and connections to help schools achieve their visions and fulfill their critical missions.

For an overview of the Spring 2014 assessment, view this video that was created for schools interested in engaging in our process:

Keep up with PAVE’s Blog for more posts about our assessment process.

What We DO Know About Summer School

By Ben Hannemann, Director of Mission Advancement

A recent blog post on nprEd “What We Don’t Know about Summer School” raises some important questions about K-12 summer school programming across the United States. Despite well-documented research that most students experience a summer learning slide that requires teachers to spend four to six weeks to get students caught up in the fall, there is very little data and discussion around what makes summer school effective for students, and ensures that the millions of dollars spent on various summer programs throughout the country are being spent well.

In the interest of generating discussion about what we DO know about summer school, let’s take a brief look at an example of summer school success here in Milwaukee. To support the efforts of one of our partner schools, PAVE provided a three year catalytic grant to St. Marcus Lutheran School to help them establish a more rigorous summer school program. Nearly half of the roughly 750 students that attend St Marcus voluntarily register for this summer session. Students include rising 1st graders (k5) through rising 8th graders (7th grade) attending a four week summer program that runs daily from 8:00 a.m. – 2:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. Academics are the morning focus, and enrichment activities (arts, music, athletics, etc.) are offered in the afternoon. Breakfast and lunch are also provided.

St. Marcus took this program to another level and made it unique by engaging the Center for Urban Teaching (CfUT), an urban education support organization with the mission to identity, prepare and support high-performing urban teachers. From the CfUt perspective, this program offers an excellent opportunity for the undergraduate teachers in their program to gain major, practical urban experience. It also gives the hardworking staff of St. Marcus the opportunity to pursue other non-teaching activities over the summer, to recharge and rejuvenate before the start of the traditional school year.

To ensure that the students of St. Marcus are the ultimate beneficiary of this approach, two weeks in advance of the summer program start date, the CfUT staff and undergraduate team worked together to prepare all elements of the academic curriculum, enrichment options, and parent engagement approaches. By studying gaps in learning identified by the most up-to-date St. Marcus WKCE scores, a customized academic unit was set up for the students. Pre and post-summer program tests were then given to each participating student. Outcomes of the 2013 summer session highlight the impact of this approach – the total school Reading Assessment showed a 4.9% improvement from pre (65.8%) to post (70.8%) and the total school Math Assessment showed 6.9% improvement, from pre (63.2%) to post (70.1%). The 2014 summer program wrapped up last week and we look forward to similar results again this year! And, as you can see in the video below, they also had some fun in the process.

So, although summer school is an under-researched topic, as indicated in the nprEd blog post, many individual schools are doing their own practical research and determining what is effective based on their own assessments. This enables them to improve their summer programs year-after-year and achieve long-lasting results, unique to their community and student’s needs.

How does your school evaluate its summer programs? If you have a student in a summer program, in what ways was it successful for him or her? What fundamentals make a summer program successful?

Welcome to The PAVE Blog

By Dan McKinley, President & CEO

Summer is a great time to begin reading a new book—perhaps a mystery you have set aside for a vacation day…leaving the nuts and bolts of work behind and letting your imagination take you to interesting new places.

In this spirit I invite you to read the new PAVE Blog. Here you will find important and interesting topics, explored by people who are both knowledgeable about education reform nationally and in close touch with people who are really making a difference in the lives of families and children in Milwaukee’s schools. Welcome to The PAVE Blog What makes the PAVE Blog distinctive? It’s what you will not find here: the usual clichés about the same old problems with education. What you will find: insights into what is working in schools that are achieving success through innovation and hard work. Stories of people who aspire to change the way things are, who know that inspiration, and persistent and organized work can bring out the best in everyone involved in a school community.

PAVE’s particular focus is on recruiting, training and organizing people who have the authority and responsibility to make decisions about how a school is organized and who are accountable for its performance. In a word, we are involved in good governance. “Governance” is a word that describes something that is all around us, but is so abstract it’s practically invisible. Go into a school and you will see teachers teaching and students hopefully learning; you may see the Principal who hires the teachers, but you will not see the independent board of volunteer directors who together decide on the priorities for the school, hire the principal and evaluate his/her performance annually, make sure the budget is well managed, and support the school’s progress.

The school’s board—it is the alpha and omega of systemic change –but do we really know what distinguishes exceptionally effective boards from a board that uses “Robert’s Rules of Order,” but doesn’t hold itself accountable for performance? We need to celebrate the work of boards that are living up to their potential to transform the lives of children who live in pervasive poverty—because in Milwaukee the way things are for children must change. The Annie E. Casey Foundation recently published an authoritative study in which “Wisconsin is ranked the worst state in the country when it comes to racial disparities for children… from educational access to socioeconomic status and home life.”

We at PAVE know some great stories and evidence of what good governance is all about. We will use this blog space to talk about what is happening that is truly important and interesting.

Above all, we want to hear from you, because your questions or observations will open up new issues to explore. Please join us.

With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility – Advice for Board Chairs

By Joan Feiereisen, Director of Governance & Board Leadership

Board Chair Advice

Simmons Lettre’s recent blog post “Thoughts from an Outgoing Board Chair” on the Charter Board Partners’ website reminded me of one of our most engaging workshop sessions this past year. A panel of three of the most successful and experienced school board chairs in Milwaukee, Jose Olivieri of Bruce Guadalupe Community School, Peter Bruce from Urban Day School, and Mary Diez of Carmen High School, shared their collective wisdom with board members and heads of schools. They echoed many of Simmons’ musings and added a few others. A sampling:

  • You’re not just one of the gang anymore – When you are a “regular” board member, you can sometimes coast at board meetings, surreptitiously check your email, come (a bit) unprepared, perhaps not read every report. But as the chair, you have to be totally on top of your game, ready to lead discussion, engage other members, ask probing questions. You simply can’t flip the “off” switch.
  • Don’t let your Executive Committee get out of hand – As Chair, you will head up this important committee. It is a critical group for being able to come together quickly in a crisis, but don’t let it become a “board within a board.” Members not on the Executive Committee will wonder what they are there for if this group becomes too powerful.
  • Be sure to have a capable #2 in place – As Spider Man learned, with great power comes great responsibility. Being Board Chair can be a lonely job and it’s important to have a strong Vice Chair or Chair Elect to work with. Not only will you have another mind working to problem solve and trouble shoot, you are also providing on-the-job training for the person who will inherit your position.
  • Take time to celebrate – Board work is hard and celebrating success provides encouragement for taking on bigger challenges in the future. Too often, accomplishments are lost in the midst of financial statements and bylaw revisions. So don’t forget to break out the bubbly, cue the noisemakers, and let them eat cake!

Make sure to read Simmons’ blog post too and then comment below and share your insight about being a board chair (or, being on a board with a great chair).

It’s National Volunteer Week

Thank you Board Corps Members

This week we celebrate the nearly 80 Board Corps volunteers that have answered the call to serve on PAVE’s Partner School Boards, along with the hundreds of other community members supporting Milwaukee’s schools.

Your extraordinary passion strengthens our schools, community, and city.

THANK YOU for all you do!
~ The PAVE Team

Open PAVE’s 2014 Annual Report to learn more about how Board Corps is impacting education in Milwaukee.

Board Corps 2015

Jennifer Allen
Jim Alvarado
Eric Anderson
Jilaine Bauer
Brian Borchert
Theresa Boyd
Michael Brauer
Vanessa Brown
Heather Buss
Aaron Caddle
Brenda Campbell
Melanie Canon
Brooke Cardarella
Carolyn Caruso
Vantrace Caston
Malissa Cooley
Mallory Davis
Jim Donahue
Jon Donahue
Thomas Duffey
Rebecca Ehlers
Robert Fisher
Dina Garcia
Jeff Garretson
David Gavigan
Curtis Grace
Vera Graves Davis
Lisa Handler
Erica Nicole Harris
Heather Heaviland
Kate Herrick
M. Rhett Holland
Ingrid Jagers
Angela Johnson
Jessie Johnson
Heather Johnston
Jacquelyn Kacala
Joseph Koglin
Bradley Kramer
Sam Leichtling
Gloria Mattson
John McDonald
Chris McFadin
Franz Meyer
Crystal Morgan
Pamela Moss
Susan Mozinski
Jerry Murphy
Paul Neuberger
Mary Louise Neuens
Dan Nolde
Lyndsey North Zubarik
Thomas Nye
Sherman On
Sylvestra Ramirez
Peter Richardson
Zach Rieboldt
David Roettgers
Amy Ruhig
Andrew Schimek
Adam Schmidt
Susan Schoenfeld
Jason Schultz
Kevin Scott
Lynn Sheka
Dawn Simmons
David Smith
John Stollenwerk
Edward Sturkey
CJ Szafir
Peter Tomasi
Jane Trenchard Backes
Ryan Van Den Elzen
Joe Villmow
Chad Winters

People Change Culture, Positive Culture Inspires

By Ben Hannemann, Director of Mission Advancement

The seemingly intractable challenges to providing quality education to poor minority children in urban America are well documented. Pockets of positive results prove it is possible and are rightfully celebrated and encouraged. Yet, proposed solutions to bring these outcomes to greater scale are often contentious, with unintended consequences and outcomes rarely achieved to the extent desired. As we enter the New Year, Wisconsin media sources of all types, and political echo chambers of every stripe, are once again reverberating with calls for action to improve education, especially urban K-12 education in Milwaukee.

This ongoing call for action is critically important, and from 50,000 feet it makes logical sense that much of the policy debate focuses to issues of accountability and structure, and the underlying flow of power and money. Yet beyond these important framing issues, it’s easy to lose site of the most important question: How do we best reach ever-growing numbers of our poor, urban children with what IS possible — a life transforming, high-quality K-12 education?

Merriam-Webster Dictionary analyzed the Big Data collected from their website and app, and identified “Culture” as the top word of 2014, based on a 15% year-over-year increase in look-ups for this term. Perhaps the wisdom of the crowd is on to something about how to create sustained positive educational change.

PAVE and School Culture

: the beliefs, customs, arts, etc., of a particular society, group, place, or time
: a particular society that has its own beliefs, ways of life, art, etc.
: a way of thinking, behaving, or working that exists in a place or organization (such as a business)

Each of these definitions of culture suggests people are striving to better understand the many shades of gray present in our multi-cultural, 21st century society. But it is the third definition that captures my interest and, I would argue, speaks to a deeper truth about reaching ever-growing numbers of Milwaukee’s urban youth with high-quality education.

Fueling a positive school culture that engages students, staff, parents and guardians, and the broader community is essential to providing hope for families growing up in seemingly hopeless situations. Positive school culture can inspire work ethic in populations that suffer from some of the highest jobless rates in the nation and encourage sustained year-over-year effort in students striving to achieve goals that no one in their family may have ever achieved.

Successful urban Milwaukee schools, whether choice, charter, or public, find ways to reach their students through positive cultures of performance, safety, and hope; driven by a clear sense of mission and a vision for the school and the students, families, and communities they serve. Amid the policy debates and politics, it is essential that we don’t lose sight of the fact that education is a people-driven effort and the oft-quoted African proverb “It takes a village to raise a child” does apply. Everyone has a role to play in championing student learning and supporting the educators who provide it. Together, people change culture, and people create positive change in the lives of Milwaukee’s children.

Take a minute to read this article from 2013 (although it’s a few years old, the content is still relevant) from The University of Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center about How to Create a Positive School Climate. It offers research-based suggestions for school leaders on how to start cultivating a positive school climate.

What have you experienced working in your school? How have you as a board member, administrator, or teacher, worked to fuel positive school culture?