Better to Build Bridges…

By Ben Hannemann, Director of Mission Advancement

Hoan Bridge Milwaukee

Amid the many challenges facing urban K-12 education in Milwaukee, we can take heart in three positives that are always worth remembering:

  • It is possible for a child – even in the toughest, poorest, most crime-ridden neighborhood – to learn, to grow, and to use their K-12 education as the first ticket to college and/or career success.
  • Success for this child generally results from being a committed student who is inspired and motivated by talented classroom teacher(s), along with supportive parent(s) and/or other adults in his or her life.
  • A small number of high-performing Milwaukee K-12 schools, galvanized by clear, unique missions and dynamic school leaders, find ways to establish and sustain high-performing cultures. Cultures of hope and opportunity that unite staff, students, family and community in highly productive partnerships. Together, they overcome every challenge to meet the educational needs of the vast majority of the students they serve.

With scant few of nearly 125,000 children receiving a quality education in our city, how do we best reach ever growing numbers of our children with what is possible: a life-transforming, high-quality K-12 education?

Unfortunately, as decades of effort with minimal gains suggest, there is no simple answer to this seemingly straightforward question. Crushing multi-generational poverty, endemic crime and violence, and a long history of struggling schools have a tendency to mess with the calculus of even the most promising educational solutions. Sustaining and growing vibrant urban school organizations is not for the meek. Vibrancy can quickly be replaced by bureaucracy. Talented people come, talented people go, cultures change and neighborhoods evolve. And the status quo of education in our city remains largely one of struggle and dissatisfaction.

Yet, while outrage is much preferred to apathy, we are far better served by productive partnership than polarizing debate and dissension. Sustained positive change is a school-by-school, neighborhood-by-neighborhood proposition. It requires the building of bridges across all sectors, connected by recognition that everyone has a role to play in championing student learning and supporting the educators that provide it.

That is why I joined PAVE. It is very rewarding to be a bridge-builder, connecting educators with other talented people within our community to work towards a common cause. To create strong, well-governed school organizations that remove barriers of time, talent and resources to ensure school leaders and teachers can focus to building strong relationships with students and parents that lead to educational excellence. I feel this is a compelling vision, and I encourage you to be a part of too.

How have bridges that others built influenced your education or career? What bridges or influential connections have you built?

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