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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."

Greco February 17, 2013 at 02:30 AM
"I would like to publicly acknowledge, express appreciation and thank Milestones for the service they have provided over the years to our families," This was only said after the chair of the Milestones board of directors pointed out Milestones had never even been thanked. We teach our kids that "thank yous" that need to be requested aren't worth much. "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," I don't remember anyone responding to this idea. It was made pretty clear that the point here is to subsidize the recreation department by charging working families Milestones prices for sub-Milestones quality. "Change is not easy, but sometimes it's necessary." Nobody, not Gerriets, not Tenorio, not Keland, certainly not the dismissive Gavigan, made a case for "necessary". Nobody even tried. That Gerriets (whose heart is likely in the right place) even said this indicates the degree to which the District is single-minded here despite the outcry.
Greco February 17, 2013 at 02:39 AM
The biggest fear for families facing enforcement of an April 15 registration deadline is the uncertainty. We're being asked to count on a new District program that stands a good chance of falling apart. Remember, no parent showed up in favor of this plan, only District employees, so the District may not get enough enrollment from existing families to make the program worth running. (Then we'll see that there is a revenue issue!) By the time this becomes clear, Milestones may be full at their new sites. Then what? That's when we'll discover this whole mess wasn't "necessary" at all, despite Gerriets' odd claim. The schools will sit empty from 3:15-6pm while the lucky children go down the block to well-equipped Milestones sites and the rest of the parents scramble for alternatives. Hopefully we'll get quality experienced care back on-site next year if Milestones is willing to return. I wouldn't count on the District program happening.
Jeff Rumage February 17, 2013 at 02:49 AM
FYI: The person using the name "Greco" is not School Board member Marie Greco.
WFBParent February 17, 2013 at 05:37 PM
Greco is pretty much hitting the nail on the head with their comments. The district and the rec dept saw this as a way to fill the revenue hole at the expense of the children. The new program is substantially inferior to milestones yet it will charge us nearly the same rates for a much lower level of care. I will not be putting our children in this new program; we will stay with Milestones even though the kids will have to walk a block or two every day. It's worth the effort. At Richards there might be a parent or two that put their kids in the new program because of the off site issue but I believe most will stick with Milestones. If you are a Cumberland parent it's a no brainer since Holy Family is right across the street. I believe the new program at Cumberland will be empty as all the Milestones parents will just have their kids walk to HF. Now, here's what I don't get; why are the principals from Richards and Cumberland backing this so heavily? What's in it for them? Is it a bump in pay now that these programs are in their schools? Is there some budget money in this for them? Quite frankly, seeing our principal at the school board meeting pimping this sham caused me a great deal of concern. Makes you wonder what else happens behind closed doors where revenue and pay is more important than the well being of the kids.
Greco February 17, 2013 at 09:01 PM
I apologize if there was confusion because I signed up under the name "Greco". Ms. Greco probably would not want my comments attributed to her. From my perspective I certainly would not want to accidentally attribute statements of common sense to the school board!
June February 18, 2013 at 01:35 PM
I have been completely satisfied with the outstanding care and attention that my children have received at Milestones. As far as the rec program is concerned, the convenience of being onsite is great, but I worry about the use of volunteers and the low pay of the site coordinators. If they need to be credentialed teachers to get the job, then they should be paid appropriately. I always had the feeling that the money that I paid for Milestones went directly to my children's care. From what I understand about the rec program, increased revenue is the primary reason for the district's support. The money for the rec program is going to generate a profit to fund other rec programs. I will be sticking with Milestones.
Greco February 18, 2013 at 10:41 PM
What's amazing is that the board could quiet all these concerns by agreeing to spend all the revenue from the new program on the kids (which would be great) or, failing that, agreeing to lower the cost to parents to match the amount spent. Their continued refusal to agree to this simple request makes it clear that the money is an important, if not the most important, reason behind the new program.
Eric Chare February 19, 2013 at 03:09 PM
I am late to this site but I think the commenters are missing half the point. Half is the money but the other half is control. The school district and in particular the principals want to control the entire day because they are sure they will do a better job than milestones has. This is fine if you think the school district is perfect but if you dont then this is quite a problem! Will some of the odd obsessions of the schools such as the devotion to the prepackaged, purchased everyday math program now dribble into the afterschool care? I think I speak for other parents when I say I hope not! We are still waiting for our daughter's school to release results from any of the MAP tests, and give a good reason why they refused to release the scores for the first round of tests. Should Patch look in to this? Will this bad ability to communicate be the same for the recreation department afterschool care? Since their past record is so bad will we really ever see the star ratings the recreation department person talked about? As a teacher myself if a student gets an F on the first test of the year there's always a chance they will get an A on every test afterward but I would say the odds are against it. The school district has an F for communicating about this afterschool mess so far so it seems there's long odds against the program getting any As.

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