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?

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

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.

Governance As Interesting?

By Michelle Burmeister, Communications Director

I started working for PAVE nearly two years ago, when the organization was gearing up to launch Board Corps. Interviewing for a marketing and public relations position, I was prepared to answer some of the typical questions about how to get media exposure for the organization and what are my ideas for using social platforms, etc. But, the main focus of the interview was “How will you make ‘governance’ interesting?” This has been my guiding mantra ever since.

I was not extremely well-versed in “governance” when I started at PAVE and I vaguely understood it’s importance based on my interview, but now, nearly two years later, I’m truly a believer in governance done well, because I’ve seen how an effective and dedicated board of directors can transform a school’s leadership and create positive and sustainable change.

PAVE Milwaukee Governance and Leadership

Have I accomplished the goal of making governance interesting? We’ve seen a great response to our recruitment efforts for Board Corps, so we’re clearly on the right path to explaining the important roles that governance and leadership have in improving and sustaining high-potential schools. But, I’m continuously working on it, along with the rest of my team. Part of the challenge is using language that is universally relate-able and doesn’t have skewed connotations (i.e. government). Equating governance with leadership, vision and oversight, as opposed to power, dictating and laws, helps to change the conversation about what a non-profit or school board of directors should be doing to champion the mission and achieve the vision of the organization.

Explaining what governance actually is, and showing through examples that it’s interesting and important, is an ongoing process of educating Milwaukee’s professional community and schools. It’s a goal that PAVE needs to continue focusing on in order to achieve our mission of making excellent educational opportunities possible for Milwaukee families. Stay tuned for many more posts about governance on The PAVE Blog…

What is your understanding of governance in a volunteer board setting? How have your professional experiences shaped your understanding of board leadership?

Common Core Standards – What They Are, What They’re All About

By Dave Steele, Director of School Partnerships

The debate over the Common Core standards, and what they mean for American K-12 education, may seem like a recent phenomenon. But, the hard work of shifting curriculum, instruction and assessments to meet the new standards (the complex process known as “Common Core implementation”) has been happening under the public’s radar screen for the past few years. Among those who do the day-to-day work of educating students, the Common Core themselves are a given, and the work to realign schools to meet the standards is the focus. Among the public at large, however, there is widespread confusion about what the Common Core standards are and what they represent. This excellent article by Erin Richards in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel from March 4, 2014, does a great job separating fact from fiction. 

Fact vs Fiction

All schools in Wisconsin, including PAVE Partner Schools, have been working on shifting to the Common Core since their adoption about three years ago. The shift in curriculum, instruction and assessments to meet the Common Core standards has been a primary focus of fellow school support organization Schools that Can Milwaukee, and PAVE has worked with school leaders and boards of directors to understand the impact of the standards on schools’ planning and budgeting. Our work in this area goes back to 2011, when we were invited to meet with the national authors of the Common Core at a small gathering of education leaders assembled by the GE Foundation.

In simplest terms, the Common Core standards mean that schools will be expected to teach and assess how well students are able to think critically. Rather than recite facts by memorization, students will be asked to explain how they arrived at their answers. This is a huge shift in how kids are taught and tested, and represents a “generational moment” in K-12 education.

Want to dig deeper? Here is information about Common Core State Standards from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.