Milestones Parents Voice Concerns About Before- and After-School Programs
School district officials respond to parents' concerns with new details about teacher ratios, quality assurance measures and the district's vision for child development.
Whitefish Bay parents who use before- and after-school programs packed the School Board meeting Wednesday night to share their concerns.
The School Board meeting comes two weeks after the Whitefish Bay School District ended its partnership with Milestones Programs for Children, a nonprofit daycare provider that leases space at Cumberland and Richards elementary schools. The news of the district ending the 33-year partnership to provide its own before- and after-school programs surprised parents, who said they have learned to trust and admire Milestones' programs over the years.
"To me, it's kind of like saying we're going to kick out Winkie's, to not have milestones here," said Whitefish Bay resident Gary Nadolsky. "It's a landmark for Whitefish Bay."
Parents seek consistency
Whitefish Bay resident Maureen Atwell said she intends to keep her child in Milestones' programs, specifically because she likes the programming the organization offers.
"I object to taking something that works – and works so well – and replacing it with something that is unknown just for the sake of revenue," Atwell said.
By making before- and after-school programs an in-house operation, the district states it will be able to offer students with homework assistance, use of district resources, a link between school-day and after-school personnel, a district evaluation of the program's effectiveness, a more effective use of school space and other school-community partnerships.
Providing this service through the Recreation Department will bring in an additional $225,000 in annual revenue, based on the district's current enrollment projections.
Whitefish Bay resident Bill Jackson said he interpreted the district's action as a revenue grab, which district officials rejected.
"I hope the board – should this project unfortunately go through – would agree that this will be an absolutely revenue-neutral program, and that any revenues be returned to the parents that paid in," Jackson said.
Jackson also worried about a change in quality standards, and asked district officials to explain how they would measure the quality of programs they intend to offer.
Quality control measures
Recreation Department Director Carin Keland, who has prior experience developing before- and after-school programs for another school district, explained the district will use the WECAN network to recruit qualified employees, and will use the Department of Children and Families' YoungStar program to monitor and assess the quality of before- and after-school programs.
Keland said she will strive for a one-to-eight teacher-to-student ratio for children in fourth-grade kindergarten and younger; a one-to-10 ratio for the next age group; and a one-to-15 ratio for the oldest age group.
Miriam Gerrietts, who is in her fifth year of teaching preschool programs at the Recreation Department, said community members can see the quality of programs by looking at the preschool programs already available for two- through four-year-old students.
"I hope that people have a little more faith in the town and school district they've invested and give the change a chance," Gerriets said. "Change is not easy, but sometimes it's necessary."
Richards School Principal Mark Tenorio said he and Cumberland School Principal Jayne Heffron were involved in the decision to switch before- and after-school programs, and they both support the action. Tenorio has a degree in early childhood education and worked at UW-Milwaukee's Childrens Learning Center.
Tenorio said bringing before- and after-school programs will provide a valuable connection between the classroom and before- and after-school programs.
"We feel this is an opportunity for elementary school programs to grow and to try to extend the school day to where it will be more connective to what is happening in the program and in alignment with the district's vision," he said.
Superintendent Mary Gavigan said the transition was not indicative of any problems with the Milestones program and was more about advancing the Recreation Department's community education mission.
"I would like to publicly acknowledge, express appreciation and thank Milestones for the service they have provided over the years to our families," she said. "I would like to to reaffirm that in no way is tonight's discussion a statement about the quality that we know that you provide, that you have provided and will continue to provide."