Advocates for Education is 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;
- advocating for public policies that promote high quality public education in Whitefish Bay.
Advocates for Education has moved far beyond its original task of promoting the Middle School referendum of 1995. With the help of a committed membership, Advocates for Education has:
- organized a statewide campaign opposing high stakes testing in Wisconsin;
- established citizen study and advocacy groups in the areas of school funding and state imposed academic standards and assessments, and testified about these issues before legislative committees in Madison;
- sponsored forums featuring candidates for the local school board and state legislative offices, and coordinated ‘get out the vote’ campaigns.
And on an ongoing basis, AFE:
- sponsors forums facilitating community discussions about important educational issues affecting Whitefish Bay;
- communicates regularly with elected state officials;
- works to build coalitions with parent groups in other districts;
- continues strong working relationships with the Whitefish Bay School Board and district administrative team.
The seed for Advocates for Education of Whitefish Bay, Inc. was officially germinated on a hot August night in 1994, when five Bay parents came together to discuss a strategy to respond to the failed middle school building referendum of the prior April. However, the actual planting of that seed happened over the course of the previous year, during “kindergarten door” discussions centered on the need for informed advocacy to promote and maintain high quality public education.
At the kindergarten door, a number of parents, particularly Connie Gavin and Meredie Scrivner, were becoming increasingly concerned that in order for public education to meet the needs of all children and in order for public education to remain a high priority in our community, an increased degree of articulate public input was needed. There was thought that the halcyon days of our childhoods, when public education did a fine job largely without the need for public vigilance and encouragement, were over forever.
The immediate need for a resolution to the Whitefish Bay Middle School overcrowding issue, combined with the long term need for articulate community-based advocacy on behalf of public education, were the basis for the founding of Advocates for Education of Whitefish Bay, Inc. The founding members were Bob Rothacker, Jay Miller, Lesley Kinzfogl, Linda Olsheska and Meredie Scrivner.
The mission of the organization, adopted in 1994 and unchanged today, is: “to promote continued high quality public education in Whitefish Bay by informing residents regarding education issues and encouraging public participation in matters affecting the schools.”
The organization was incorporated in the fall of 1994 and undertook an immediate campaign both to grow the organization and to solve the middle school overcrowding issue. Through advocacy at the school board level, the middle school building plan was redesigned and again submitted to a community referendum set for April, 1995. AFE ran an aggressive community-based campaign involving hundreds of volunteers who eventually became the membership base for the organization. On April 2, 1995, the referendum which had been soundly defeated the previous year was passed by an 80 vote margin, with a phenomenal 69% voter turnout. That campaign and victory remain a model for successful grass-roots advocacy, and the election result remains a major event in the rich history of our community.
Since that first highly focused year of overdrive activity, the organization has continued to be an informed and effective voice on behalf of public education. “Study groups” of four or five interested members have followed such issues as state funding of public education and the impact of revenue caps; model academic standards and high stakes testing; and the Chapter 220 voluntary integration program. AFE has become recognized statewide and nationally for its intelligent, articulate, reasonable positions on issues of great importance to public education. AFE’s work on the statewide testing issue is widely identified throughout Wisconsin as having been highly effective in achieving in the retrenchment of the state’s high stakes testing law into a more moderate plan.
After over a decade of existence, Advocates for Education has reached a maturity and stability which seem able to insure long-term viability. Leadership has successfully turned over a number of times, and new leadership has been recruited with relative ease. More than any other factor in a grass roots organization, this ability to attract new leaders is an enormous sign of viability. The membership has been stable in the 150 family range, and it is likely this number could be increased with some additional recruitment techniques. While not a high profile group, AFE enjoys a positive community image with most who have any impression of the group.
Overall, it would appear that that vision of those who formed Advocates for Education was a valid one, and that those who have carried out that vision over the past nine years have done a fine job. The group appears healthy and still needed as we continue to promote high quality public education in the 21st century.
Published in 2004 – AFE A Decade of Advocacy 2004