‘Educators For a Day’ Witness Excellence in Milwaukee Schools

“I like what I’m seeing here!” said Milwaukee artist Tia Richardson, as she walked between the moving brushes of Greenfield Bilingual School’s young artists. “This is beautiful work!”

Richardson spent the morning in teacher Rebecca Hall’s classroom as an “Educator for a Day,” an honorary position that allowed Richardson and other Milwaukee community members to become involved in American Education Week (AEW), November 13-19, and to see the opportunities and challenges in public schools. The week of celebration, which began in 1921 with NEA and American Legion as cosponsors, serves as tribute to the team of people who work with students, everyone from classroom teachers to bus drivers to administrative staff and countless others.

“I love American Education Week! It’s an opportunity to open our doors and show the amazing things happening with our kids, and also the challenges,” said NEA Secretary Treasurer Becky Pringle. NEA’s theme, “Raise Your Hand for Student Success,” invites everybody to do their part to support student growth and achievement — educators, students, parents, and community members — and make sure every student has a great public school.

At Greenfield, which serves 4-year-olds through eighth-graders, all students have art, music, and physical education. Unfortunately, this complement is unusual in Milwaukee. With state vouchers for private schools siphoning more than $50 million this year alone, and more than a billion dollars over their 23-year history in Milwaukee, public schools are starved for the kind of support that provides a well-rounded education to students.

Artist Tia Richardson (left), art teacher Rebecca Hall, and NEA Secretary Treasurer Becky Pringle talk to students in art class work at Greenfield School in Milwaukee, WI.

“Let’s think about what you could do with that science teacher you want,” said Pringle to Greenfield principal Adalberto Salas-Barreto. Pringle, on behalf of NEA and the Wisconsin Education Association Council, presented Salas-Barreto with a $500 check for Greenfield’s library.

And still, despite the obstacles, “Educators for a Day” witnessed Greenfield teachers delivering excellence. In the old gymnasium, physical education teacher Gail Milbrath had 32 pre-kindergartners dancing the “tummy tango” with the help of Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC) president Betsy Kippers, a PE teacher from Racine.

“There’s not a classroom I go into in the state of Wisconsin where I don’t see amazing things,” said Kippers. “We have to share the story of how successful our public schools are — they have quality teachers who care deeply about their students, no matter who they are…We’ve been beaten down for a few years and it’s time for the public to hear about the great things happening in public schools in this state!”

In the art room, Hall and community artist Richardson worked with students on their own Aboriginal-style “spirit paintings” of animals, using colorful daubs of acrylic paint. “This is absolutely gorgeous!” Pringle said. “You could do it too, you’d be surprised,” Richardson said. Meanwhile, around the corner, Milwaukee school board member Claire Zautke and Bob Peterson, president of the Milwaukee Teachers Education Association (MTEA), were singing along to the Greenfield school song with music teacher Kris Uitts. “One, two, you know what to do!” said Uitts, guitar in hand.

“If my wife finds out I led a song in the music room, she’ll probably send condolences to the music teacher,” said Peterson. But, in all seriousness, he added, “This is a great day and part of a great week to celebrate the great schools that our students deserve, and we all work to create. We all know that it’s through great public schools that our multi-racial democracy will survive.”