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Increased Role of Minorities will Strengthen WEAC

It is important that minorities play a more prominent role in WEAC so their interests are better represented and so that non-minority leaders of the organization have a better understanding of their cultures and needs, WEAC Executive Director Michael Butera said Saturday (February 26, 2000).

Michael Butera

Speaking at the WEAC Minority Affairs Committee's Winter Leadership Conference in Milwaukee, Butera said that as a person whose primary experience has been in the white culture, he needs more minority influences to help him better understand other cultures.

For example, he said, the Hmong culture "is a whole new experience in my life."

"I need that education. You need to help me better understand that."

When WEAC has more minority leaders and when non-minority WEAC leaders are made more aware of diverse cultural needs, he said, the organization becomes stronger. For example, Great Schools materials this year are being published in Spanish and Hmong as well as English because of a recognition of diverse cultural needs.

But that is only one small example. Minority students and minority educators from Milwaukee to Hayward face many unique issues that need to be better addressed by the organization, Butera said.

As another example, Butera said only three in every 100 Native American children will go on to college.

"We have a collective responsibility as a union and a people to do better," he said.

WEAC is supporting a bill that increases funding for the teaching of Native American culture in schools.

"This is one small step your union can take in assisting members in celebrating cultures," he said.

Terry Craney

WEAC President Terry Craney said everyone at the conference "faces a multitude of crucial issues" and it is important that those issues be addressed by the organization.

"Issues that affect AHANA groups affect all WEAC members," Craney said, referring to African-, Hispanic-, Asian-, and Native-American members.

Craney said WEAC is working on a number of fronts to help strengthen public schools for children of all races and backgrounds. He said WEAC:

  • Has launched the Great Schools project, which is aimed at reconnecting members with each other and the communities in which they work.
  • Is working to promote and expand the state's highly successful SAGE class-size reduction program which is especially beneficial to poor, minority children.
  • Is fighting private school vouchers because they have no effect on student achievement and harm the public schools which are dedicated to serving the needs of children from all backgrounds.
  • Is working to further increase state funding for special education programs and has asked for a Legislative Council study on this issue. The shortage of funding for special education is forcing school districts to take money out of regular education budgets, which is creating intense conflict among educators, parents and students.
  • Is directly involved in a lawsuit challenging the state's school finance system, which is "inequitable and unfair" and ignores the unique expenses of educating children with special needs.
  • Is fighting school district revenue controls, which are forcing districts to make severe budget cuts that harm education and kids.
  • Is fighting against the Qualified Economic Offer law, which is undermining teacher salaries and diminishing the profession.
  • Is fighting against a lawsuit that has blocked implementation of a law that provides public employees with well-deserved pension improvements.
  • Has worked in support of major changes in licensing that strengthen the teaching profession.

The conference featured a panel of educators and a panel of legislators. Among the comments:

Paulette Copeland
  • Paulette Copeland, president of the Milwaukee Teachers' Education Association, said some of the critical issues she sees currently before the association and the profession are high-stakes testing, attracting and retaining qualified educators, merit pay for teachers, control over the education profession, and private school vouchers. "It's time to become more vocal," she said. "It's time to become more political. We must support people who support public education. ... It's important we take a lead and stop letting other people make decisions for us."
  • South Milwaukee teacher Guy Costello said educators must band together to address the growing diversity of society, stop violence and work to build a caring community, in part through the Great Schools initiative. "We are a nation made rich and strong by our diversity," he said. The Great Schools project, he said, "provides an opportunity for us to stop pointing fingers and instead hold out our hands."
  • Lisa Waukau, a Menominee Indian who teaches on the reservation, said it is important to get young people interested in the teaching profession and the association.
  • Rep. Pedro Colon of Milwaukee said the Latino population in Milwaukee increased from 1% in 1975 to about 15% today. He said it is important to have strong neighborhood schools.
  • Sen. Richard Grobschmidt of South Milwaukee, chair of the Senate Education Committee, said school district revenue controls are causing serious problems in virtually every district. He said we must work to convert the "heavy hand of Madison" into the "helping hand." Strong public schools, he said, are the base of our democracy and our economy.
  • Sen. Gwendolynne Moore of Milwaukee said such policies as high-stakes testing, "tough love," and zero tolerance "put the onus" on the very victims of poor educational policy. "With a lack of resources, our recourse has been to just blame the kids," she said. "We need to challenge our basic assumptions about why (some) kids are failing. ... We need to strike at the heart of these problems."
  • Wallace Johnson, Jr., chair of the Minority Affairs Committee, said minorities can improve education and the organization through empowerment, sharing and helping to create a greater understanding of all cultures.
Guy Costello
Lisa Waukau
Pedro Colon
Richard Grobschmidt
Gwenn Moore
Wallace Johnson Jr.

Posted February 28, 2000

 

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