Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct the university where Aisha Carr received her master’s in educational leadership and policy analysis.
Four of the nine seats on the Milwaukee Board of School Directors are up for reelection.
In District 4, which includes parts of the Midtown, Lindsay Heights, Martin Drive and Metcalfe Park neighborhoods, four candidates will be on the ballot for the Feb. 16 primary. Two of those candidates will move on to the general election on April 6.
Here is biographical information for candidates and answers to five questions posed by NNS. Answers have been summarized for brevity, but you can find each candidate’s full answer here: Aisha Carr, Dana Kelley, Victor Nwagbaraocha and Cheryl Hayes.
Address: 2819 N. 2nd St., Milwaukee WI 53212
Education: Master’s in educational leadership and policy analysis at UW-Madison; master’s in urban special education at Cardinal Stritch University
Occupation: Opportunity Youth Re-Engagement Director at Silver Spring Neighborhood Center
Past elected experience: Ran for Milwaukee School Board District 4 in 2017
Endorsements: State Rep. Evan Goyke, Zion Rodgers (Rufus King High School student), Andre Lee Ellis
Address: 2969 N. 45th Street, Milwaukee WI 53210
Education: Graduate of North Division H.S.; associates in biblical studies, Midwest Bible College
Occupation: Co-Op Organizer of North Side Rising, Citizen Action of WI; assistant pastor, The Reviving Faith Movement
Past elected experience: None
Endorsements: Milwaukee Teacher’s Education Association, Milwaukee Democratic Socialists of America
Address: P.O. Box 05486, Milwaukee WI 53205
Education: Master’s in educational leadership from UW-Milwaukee; bachelor’s in special education from UW-Milwaukee
Occupation: Special education teacher in elementary, middle and high school, diagnostic teacher, elementary and middle school
-Designated vocational instructor, high school
-Founder of an educational nonprofit organization, Positive Images Inc.
-Member of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity Inc.
-Member of the Knights of Peter Claver
Past elected experience: None
Endorsements: Director Annie Woodward, Protellus, Verify Me Now
Address: 2222 W. Walnut St., Milwaukee 53205
Education: Master’s in urban education from Mt. Mary University
Occupation: Retired MPS educator
Past elected experience: None
Endorsements: Dream Gunther, Joyce and Joe Ellwanger, Attorney James Hall, Syvell Hugo Hall, Deli 1614, Lucia and Jack Murtaugh and Rev. Michelle Townsend de Lopez
1. Why are you running for school board?
Carr: “I am running because representation matters. With over 80% of the MPS student body population identifying as Black and Brown youth who reflect diversity in age, generation and culture, it is my belief that in order to adequately provide each student with a high quality educational experience, we must deliver quality instruction from the lens of which each student can closely identify with.”
Kelley: “I am running for MPS board District 4 because our community of color needs a change in the education presented to them. District 4 is the most marginalized and disproportionate community that lacks resources, revenue and support from policy and lawmakers. Therefore, I plan to ensure a quality education to children of color through music, arts and mental health professionals being in all schools for a holistic educational approach. I also want to hold charter schools accountable for continued funding through an accountability clause that measures each school’s success where they must offer a curriculum that is different from MPS and offers a higher quality of education than MPS.”
Nwagbaraocha: “I want to make Milwaukee Public Schools a tier one educational destination for our students and families. I believe that our educational system can do better for our children and families. I want to be part of an educational body that strives to:
- Improve educational opportunities for our students/youth
- Improve parental and community input and engagement
- Strengthen our neighborhoods and city.”
Hayes: “I believe I can address many of the inequities at MPS more effectively as a school board member. After 20 years of teaching for Milwaukee Public Schools, I am aware of issues that need to be addressed. I will vote for positive policies that affect the children, staff and families of Milwaukee School District 4. I currently have grandchildren and other family members who attend Milwaukee Public Schools. A love for children, my family and my community make improvement of Milwaukee Public Schools my self-interest.”
2. What in your background or makeup especially qualifies you for this seat?
Carr: “For almost six years, I served as a special education and English co-teacher in Milwaukee Public Schools. During that time, I led two district-wide piloted initiatives — the Black Lives Matter resolution to train, promote and teach equity and inclusion, and the Restorative Practice program to encourage leaders, educators and students to understand and resolve conflict and adversity in any capacity. Prior to becoming an educator, I served as a Community Learning Center director with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee in the same school that I would later teach at. I’ve worked as a legislative staffer on Capitol Hill for former Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold and have worked with youth and young adults nationwide in other capacities.”
Kelley: “I am qualified especially for this seat because I genuinely care about the life and longevity of MPS and its students. I am an alumni of MPS and very proud of the educational experience I received through North Division and other Milwaukee Public Schools. I work as a co-op organizer of North Side Rising, for Citizen Action of WI, where we fight for political, economic, and racial and climate equity and justice. I stood up against We Energies and the PSC this past summer and was successful in getting the utilities [disconnection] moratorium extended throughout WI.”
Nwagbaraocha: “I am a retired special education teacher and administrator with over 30 years of experience in the Racine Unified and Milwaukee Public School districts. As a first-generation immigrant, my parents and community installed in me the belief in being a lifelong learner, and a servant leader in my community. I have worked and engaged in the urban educational framework in the classroom, on the playground, in the community and political areas through my work as a parent, union representative and community advocate.”
Hayes: “I have been a resident of the Milwaukee Inner City since 1970. A former welfare recipient, I am a single parent of five. I have been a Habitat for Humanity homeowner since 1989. My professional experiences are as an outreach home detention case manager; community organizer; church-based leader with MICAH as a member of Cross Lutheran Church; and extensive service to youth as the cofounder-coordinator of a youth support group for 22 years. I taught at Milwaukee Public Schools from 1998-2020. Prior to teaching I was a community leader and activist. I have developed relationships which will enable me to negotiate and collaborate with those who are willing to aid in creating effective changes in our MPS schools.”
3. What are the most important issues facing the board — and your district in particular? What do you think should be done about these issues?
Carr: “To name a few, some of the most important issues facing the board and District 4 in particular are: COVID-19 reopening plan; racial/social/academic/economic disparities impacting students throughout the city; the recruitment and retention of Black and Brown educators; overworked, under-resourced, under-compensated educators; underutilization and vacancy of MPS buildings; inequitable funding; increased accountability for the district’s traditional and charter schools; punitive disciplinary policies; support for culturally responsive curriculums, etc.”
Kelley: “The most important issues facing the board and District 4 in particular is equality. Privatization plays a big role in that. Therefore, we must work and fight against parasitic privatization which sucks the life out of MPS. We lack support, revenue and resources. There are misallocations and misappropriations of funding and support for teachers, parents and students. We must follow the money and rectify the problem of lack in our district. We must also work to encourage parents to bring their children back to MPS. We have to strengthen our curriculum and support for the district, staff, students and parents alike.”
Nwagbaraocha: “The most important issues facing the board and District 4:
- The perception or belief that students coming out of the Milwaukee Public School system are under-prepared to become productive citizens in our community.
- The need for youth/students to attend their neighborhood schools.
- Increase the number of quality educators in our district, recruiting and retaining these educators.
- Ensure that our school district offers competitive compensation and benefits.
- That Milwaukee Public Schools does not engage or interact well with its educational constituents.
- A school board that is visible and engaging with families, community and educational stakeholders.
- Moving forward with educational and health practices and policies that ensure the health, mental and emotional well-being of our students, staff and community.”
Hayes: “There are a number of issues which need to be addressed within the Milwaukee Public School district. There are two issues of importance I would like to see addressed. The first is low academic scores of our students throughout the district. The second is enrollment and attendance. These two issues have become more intense since the COVID-19 pandemic. Once the schools are opened to in-person learning, students will need additional services to improve academics. The district will need to make available resources for tutoring. I propose after-school programming and weekend tutoring. I also propose summer school at numerous locations to allow students the opportunity to earn extra credit or pass failed course work. There will be a need for smaller classroom sizes to ensure social distancing, due to COVID-19.”
4. Are you satisfied with the district’s efforts to address disproportionate disciplining of Black male students as described in the Office of Civil Rights report? Would you want to change the district’s approach to this issue if elected?
Carr: I am not satisfied with the district’s efforts to address the disproportionate discipline of Black male students. In order to create a more equitable, racially just and restorative district, the district must practice consistency, urgency and transparency in its deliverance of equity and inclusion training, policies, practices as well as progress monitoring. It’s a step in a positive direction to lay out plans for racially equitable, inclusive and restorative disciplinary practices. However, it’s another thing to actually implement those named practices throughout the district, holding each and every professional accountable to those policies and procedures.
Kelley: “Being the mother of two sons, I definitely do not agree with the disproportionate disciplining of Black male students. I fought hard to keep my sons from being labeled and caught up in the system. But many parents are not as fortunate as I have been in advocating for their child’s educational and criminal justice. The school-to-prison pipeline is very real in communities of color and continually perpetuated due to lack of social development funding in our community. We are rewarded with more police instead of resources for rehabilitation, moral and social development and just plain fun. Our suburban communities do not have this same problem of lack for their youth and this is why the grass looks greener on the other side. Any grass that is not watered will wither and die.”
Nwagbaraocha: “I would advocate for transparency as the district moves forward towards:
- Recruitment and retention of Black and Latino staff,
- Addressing issues as it relates to culture and climate,
- Developing mentorship programs,
- Increasing support staff resources,
- Collaborating with internal and external stakeholders.”
Hayes: “The district is making efforts to address disproportionate disciplining of Black male students, but it is a very slow process. During my last years as a teacher at an alternative high school, our professional development sessions emphasized the need for other means to be put in place to replace suspension and expulsion of minority males. A program in collaboration with a community-based organization was implemented at the school to reduce the injustices to students of color. It lasted one year. It showed signs of a positive approach. However, the district did not renew the contract. I want to see the district attempt this approach again with more schools. I would definitely bring the proposal to the district when elected to the school board.
“I would also propose that the district contract more Violence Free Zone teams for schools in the 4th District. I have witnessed the team mediators as very effective in deterring violence among students. They are able to identify and diffuse negative situations in a proactive approach rather than a reactive approach. They are a positive replacement for having police in the schools.”
5. Do you agree with MPS’ decision to keep most students in all-virtual instruction until April? If not, how would your plan be different?
Carr: “It is my belief that school should remain virtual for the remainder of the 2020-21 academic school year. Instead of having students back for a month of instruction, putting everyone at risk for contracting the COVID-19 virus, this time should be spent revising each school’s budget, allocating funding to train educators, support staff, administrators, students and families for extensive, rigorous, high-quality summer and fall academic instruction. For some, the resources will be present to provide quality academic enrichment support, thus keeping those students on a trajectory for academic success. For others, a strategic plan of action will be necessary to address the academic skill deficiencies pre- and post-COVID-19. In order to meet the needs of every student, a solid plan of action is needed, and I am unclear. I am not confident that the District has developed that just yet.”
Kelley: “No, I do not agree with MPS’ decision to keep most students virtual until April because I believe April is too soon to return to in-person learning. Therefore, I would not decide to bring students back at all this school year. Yes, it has been challenging for all stakeholders, but our children and our community will be at risk with reopening MPS too soon and without an adequate public health and safety plan.
“Children are affected by COVID and carriers of COVID. They live with family members that are elderly and that have compromised immune systems. This poses a public health risk and will affect the community of color at a more disproportionate rate than any other community. I want to keep our children safe and our community safe.”
Nwagbaraocha: “No, I do not agree with Milwaukee Public Schools’ decision to keep most students in all virtual instruction until April. As a parent, educator and administrator, I know how painful this pandemic has been for families. We are witnessing our most vulnerable students suffer from the current uncompromising remote learning regimen. Students with special needs, English language learners, and economically disadvantaged students are falling behind. Many students are dealing with pandemic induced trauma. For these reasons, we need a pragmatic, professional science-informed response to reopening.
“As we move through this era of COVID, we need to offer parents and families the option to send their children to school in-person. “
Hayes: “Yes, I agree.”