Partnership Keeps Changing for the Better

As communities try to solve tough education issues, many are turning to partnerships between the public schools, business and industry, teacher unions and higher education institutions that prepare teachers. And they are benchmarking the success of the Milwaukee Partnership Academy (MPA) even as the MPA continues to evolve and restructure itself in order to strengthen its work with Milwaukee schools.

Representatives from the University of Tennessee and the Knox County Schools visited Milwaukee recently and communicated their incredulity that a fluid partnership such as the MPA could be effective and attract large numbers of business organizations, community and social service agencies, higher education institutions and other organizations with varying interests to support public education.

“One of the MPA’s strengths is its ability to bring to the table education advocates and others who, not so long ago, would not have considered collaborating,” Alfonzo Thurman, Dean of the UWM School of Education, said.

The MPA began 4 years ago as a collaboration among UWM, the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS), the Milwaukee Board of School Directors, the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association, the Milwaukee Area Technical College, the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce and the Private Industry Council of Milwaukee County. Early meetings of the MPA were primarily comprised of MPA executive committee members (the CEOs of the founding organizations) as well as board members (up to three representatives from each organization), and a tight corps of implementation team members.

As word about the MPA spread throughout the Milwaukee community, the partnership expanded to include more representatives from the founding groups, community-based organizations, civic leaders, and special interest groups. Today the MPA core organizations number 10 with the addition of the Helen Bader Foundation, the Greater Milwaukee Committee, and Mayor Tom Barrett’s office.

“It’s gotten to the point where there can be more than 50 people attending a meeting,” Christine Anderson, MPA executive director, said. “There’s no question that the dedication and interest of these individuals is unsurpassed. However, the executive committee realized that as the MPA grows, it needs to clarify where everyone fits in order to maximize its mission.”

To that end, a restructuring committee was formed to examine the MPA’s current structure and make recommendations on how it can become more effective. Thurman chairs the committee and says the group has already identified where the MPA structure can be collapsed. In addition to the partnership’s executive committee, board and implementation teams, the MPA’s structure also includes board affiliate members and government officials.

“Our preliminary recommendation is to collapse the current board of directors and affiliates into an advisory council,” Thurman said. “The current structure is too complicated and not well understood.”

The advisory council would inform the executive committee and board of implementation teams and work group efforts. Advisory council meetings would be interactive and offer suggestions on how to incorporate the MPA’s work into the every day work of affiliate organizations such as the Milwaukee Art Museum or the Milwaukee Public Library.

“The MPA has always been a fluid organization that works because it embraces change,” Anderson said. “This restructuring will be the impetus for added strength as this city works together to get every MPS child on grade level in reading, writing and mathematics.”

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