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?​


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?

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?

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 pave.org/ourwork 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.

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?