The Election Is Upon Us

Advocates of Education Whitefish Bay prides itself on being a non-partisan, not-for-profit organization that works to promote high-quality public education in Whitefish Bay by:

  • informing residents about education issues and encouraging public participation in matters affecting our schools;
  • fostering a social and political climate favorable to public education; and
  • advocating for public policies that promote high quality public education in Whitefish Bay.

The United States Senate race in Wisconsin offers two candidates, both of whom have strong and opposing views on public education.

Russ Feingold supports the continuance and increase of governmental funding to support public education.

Ron Johnson supports parental choice in education, that would result in an ultimate reduction of government funds directed towards public education;

For Whitefish Bay absentee voting information: click here.

For Whitefish Bay’s sample ballot: click here.

Upcoming Parent Teacher Conferences

October means fall leaves, jack-o-lanterns, and if you have a student in Whitefish Bay schools, parent-teacher conferences. Whether you consider conferences a trick or a treat, conferences can benefit both parents and teachers if parents maximize the few minutes they spend face-to-face with their child’s teachers.

AFE members have asked our board for information on best ways to prepare for parent-teacher conferences.

According to Mike O’Connor, principal at the middle school, parents of middle schoolers should consider asking some of the following questions:

  • What are the most important standards you’ve covered so far?  How is my child doing in meeting those standards?
  • When do you see my child the most engaged with school?  When does he/she tune out?
  • How does my child treat other kids?  How is he/she treated by others?
  • What’s one goal you have for my child over the next month?
  • Tell me about a time my child has struggled in your class.  How did he/she overcome it?
  • What support can we provide at home that will ensure my child’s (continued) success?

O’Connor says, “Questions like these may give you a clearer picture of your child’s scholarship, character, and social interactions than a letter grade ever would.  This will be especially true if you bring your child with you to conferences!” Middle and high schoolers may attend their conferences, though most elementary conferences are parent-teacher only.

To get the most out of parent-teacher conferences, parents should be prepared to talk about their child, not simply hear what the teacher has to say.

According to Nancy Flanagan in her Education Week article, Seven Ideas for Meaningful Parent-Teacher Conferences, “conferences are an opportunity for two-way communication. They’re not merely a stage for teachers to give parents information on classroom performance, although many teachers do just that. Conferences are also a place for parents to tell teachers things about their child: How he likes to learn. What she says about the class at home. How he enjoys spending free time. What she says about other students in the class. After a good conference, both the parent and teacher know more about how things could be better.” For the full Education Week article, read more here.

Remember, conferences are just as much an opportunity for parents to communicate about their children, as it is to hear a status report from a teacher. Make the most of the time you have during conferences – even if it is only five minutes.

For the older grades, the majority of the evening is spent waiting in line.  Consider this an opportunity to get to know the parents of your child’s peers – they may provide new insight or new questions about your child’s experience at school.

School Board Meeting Notes – 10/17/16

Please note that these are unofficial school board notes taken by an AFE board representative.

There was a “board retreat from 6-7pm. The public was invited to attend but not comment. The topic of the retreat was the art, music and foreign language course offering given by the district. (At least 13 community members and district staff members were also in attendance. )

The board members discussed how art, music and foreign language courses fit into the district’s vision statement. There was a review of the history of the “fine arts” graduation requirement at the high school.

Concern was voiced about the “pipeline” of students choosing arts, music and foreign language and how schedule changes at the elementary and middle levels may be impacting student choices of course offerings when they get to high school.

At this point student choice of course enrollment impacts staffing levels of arts courses, creating some less than full time positions. These positions are difficult both to fill and retain.

Board members reaffirmed their commitment to arts and foreign language education. They also recognize that arts education has a great deal of community support in Whitefish Bay. They are going to pursue creative solutions given the challenges of the current fiscal environment.

Regular School Board Meeting

Current district enrollment is 3,018. The district is down 8 students from the previous year but student numbers are higher than were projected when they were creating this year’s budget. They are predicting an increase in resident enrollment in the coming years.

A summary of the Whole Child School Surveys was given. Some highlights include:

  • At Cumberland: 98% of 4th and 5th grade students report that teachers are good at teaching” indicating a high level of engagement.
  • At Richards 100% of students reported that teachers want them to do their best and 100% report that students are kind to one another.
  • At the Middle School 95% of students reported that teachers always/often have high expectations.
  • At the High School 84% of staff often/always have high expectations.

All schools use data from the reports to look for areas where they can grow and are committed to working proactively to find strategies to meet student needs.

There was an update regarding the School Board’s membership in the South East Wisconsin School Alliance. This is a regional educational advocacy group of urban and public school districts of which Whitefish Bay Public Schools is a member. The group has recently proposed a change to its mission statement which would take out the word “public”. Our school board has taken a position which opposes this change—and has asked this organization to retain its focus on public education. Our board has made a formal statement to this organization in that effect.

This year there will be curriculum renewals in the areas of music/art and human growth and development.

There was a brief update about the first meeting of the newly formed Human Growth and Development curriculum committee. This committee will be reviewing district curriculum to ensure that it is medically accurate and developmentally appropriate.

A calendar committee has been formed to review current district calendars. There has been a change of state law which requires a certain number of instructional minutes, versus number of days. This change impacts each building differently.

New proposals for middle school courses include: Design Modeling, Green Architecture, Medical Detectives and Design Challenge.

In the high school, proposed addition to the biomedical track include: Human Body Systems, Medical Interventions.

The board spent time investigating one of the “Seven Thriving Dispositions” that have been put forth by the Transformational Educational Practices committee. These are dispositions that the committee believes will be our competitive edge in the future.  Board member Jennifer Dragseth gave an overview of the philosophy of Creativity and Imagination.

(There was a final board meeting session regarding compensation models, but the AFE Board Member who was recording notes was not able to attend.)

School Board Retreat to Discuss Art, Music and Foreign Language Programming

There is a school board meeting tonight in Room 47 of the WFBHS, which will be preceded by a retreat by the school board at 6:00 PM.  The retreat is open to the public.

The discussion points from the agenda are:

  1. Competing priorities with respect to art, music, and foreign language programming.
  2. Student voice and choice in the areas of art, music, and foreign language programming.
  3. What effect should variances in course enrollment have on high school art, music, and foreign language programming?
  4. The “pipeline” for art, music, and foreign language programming from elementary to high school.

When AFE contacted the school board president to check on the purpose of the retreat, we were advised that the intent was to have a discussion around strategic questions like:

  • How do we balance the need for solid programming in these areas with financial costs?
  • What does a fine arts requirement in the high school mean?
  • How do we account for student choice and voice in programming?
  • Are there obstacles in the elementary and middle school programs to ensuring that all who are interested have the potential to enroll in these programs in high school?

A representative from the AFE Board will attend.

Screenagers Recap

On Tuesday, October 4, REDgen presented Screenagers.  The screening took place at Dominican High School and was well attended with well over 300 in the audience.  The movie presented information about brain development, effects of video games on the brain, social consequences, sleep issues, addiction concerns and treatment programs for addiction. It was realistic, informative, and at-times shocking.  The movie also discussed the effects of one-to-one computer programs in schools and evidence that it has created a larger achievement gap between high and low economic groups.

Two local pediatricians fielded questions after the movie. There were concrete suggestions given to help parents address screen use concerns in children and teens.

More information about future showings or how to request a showing at

They also have a Facebook page where they share more related research and help parents to keep the conversation going with their children.


Second Grade Goes Global

Jennifer Wilkinson is a board member of AFE. She is also a 2nd Grade teacher at Cumberland Elementary School.  Last year she was able to participate in a State Department sponsored fellowship program., Teachers For Global Classrooms. The following is her description of the program and the impact that it has had on her students.  

What do 2nd graders in St. Petersburg, Russia have in common with 2nd graders in Whitefish Bay, WI?  Is it possible to take 21 kids to Antarctica to visit penguins? Can 2nd graders think of a way to keep Lake Michigan healthy and clean and share their ideas with people around the world?  Over this past year as a participant in a fellowship program called Teachers for Global Classrooms, I discovered the answers to all of these questions and more. One of my greatest passions has always been travel, so when I saw a flier for a program for teachers that would send me to another country for two to three weeks, I did not think twice about applying. Little did I know that this application would introduce me to the idea of global education and result in an experience that would transform my approach to teaching.

Teachers for Global Classrooms is a US State Department sponsored fellowship for K-12 teachers in the USA.  The purpose of the program is to “equip teachers to bring an international perspective to their schools through targeted training, experience abroad and global collaboration”.  My cohort consisted of 80 teachers from around the country.  The fellowship began with an intensive online course covering theory and practice in global education. After the online-course was finished, both myself and my principal, Jayne Heffron, attended a Global Education Symposium in Washington DC. Both the online course and the symposium gave me a new understanding of the pace at which global developments will influence the lives my of students. The  reality is  that the 2nd graders I am teaching now will need to have an understanding of  and investment in the world beyond their immediate communities.  

I realized that this did not mean I had to add anything new to my curriculum, (we have more than enough to do! )  Instead, I used the  idea of globalizing my teaching help me to make my lessons more engaging and meaningful for my students.  For example, when learning subtraction, we compared the temperature of Whitefish Bay with cities around the world and calculated the differences. For our reading classes we found another classroom in Ohio that was reading the same book and exchanged letters sharing our ideas and thoughts about the characters. In our science class, we were able to Skype with a researcher in Antarctica to learn about how penguins adapt to their environments. For social studies, we collaborated with a German class to create upcycled objects as a way to reduce plastic waste in the environment. The kids were learning, and it was fun! They were also learning to consider perspectives other than their own and get the idea that it is possible to take action to make changes, even though they are just seven years old!

The final part of the program (and the reason I had initially signed up!) was the international field experience. I was beyond excited to learn that I would get to travel to Colombia, a country that I knew almost nothing about. I was able to spend three weeks there touring schools, cultural sights and working with Colombian teachers.  I saw and experienced more than I could possibly convey in this short article, but my biggest take away from my time there was the observation that education is the single and most powerful way to empower people to improve their lives. This is as true in Whitefish Bay as it is in Colombia.

I am excited to continue to build on the connections that I made during this fellowship to establish even more meaningful connections between my students and kids from around the world. I am even more excited to see my teaching colleagues take some of these ideas and integrate them into their teaching.  
You can read more about Jennifer’s trip and global education by going to her blog: 2nd Grade Goes Global