Milwaukee mayor Tom Barrett

5 Questions for the Mayor: Milwaukee’s Tom Barrett

Where do you go for the top news in Early Learning at the municipal level? Check out “5 Questions for the Mayor,” where we’ll explore the top Early Learning challenges and successes in cities across the nation. We’re thrilled to partner with the National League of Cities on this new series.

1.Milwaukee is Wisconsin’s largest city. What do you most love about Milwaukee? 

Milwaukee is a city rich in diversity.  In many ways, it’s a microcosm of our nation, embodying our most encouraging opportunities as well as our most serious societal challenges. On a daily basis I see both hope and frustration. I also see a city where—in every neighborhood—parents love their children and want to see them get a good education.

2.Regarding Early Learning, what are the city’s top challenges?

TomBarrett reading to kids
Mayor Barrett reads to children in a Milwaukee classroom

There are challenges in affordability, quality and access, including proximity. There have been a number of communities across the country that have raised the issue of quality linked to the wages paid to childcare and pre-K educators; Milwaukee’s experience is much the same. What we hope to do in the City of Milwaukee, is to utilize every available platform, whether through the K-12 system, or education-focused civic organizations or the strong networks of parent-led groups, to improve the lives of Milwaukee’s youngest learners. Numerous stakeholders are dedicated to help these systems improve. As Mayor, I believe we have a moral obligation to increase the “hope factor” by engaging parents, providers and policy makers toward everyone being better informed and educated. Our City government’s role and goal is to ensure a coordinated, aligned and higher standard for serving the entire population of Milwaukee’s youngest children.

“The earlier we create an early childhood infrastructure for children and families, the better the guarantee we’ll have for a world-class city. I want that for Milwaukee, and for every child born and raised here.” — Tom Barrett, Mayor of Milwaukee

3.You’ve been Mayor since 2004. Within the last year, you’ve created an Office of Early Childhood Initiatives. And Milwaukee has been selected as an Early Learning city with an inaugural meeting of the OECI’s Advisory Council in September. What is the Council and why did you prioritize early childhood development so significantly?

I really recognized the challenges in serving our early learners, so I worked with our Common Council to elevate the goal through the creation of the Office of Early Childhood Initiatives (OECI). Part of our reaching the goal and sustaining the standard is through OECI’s work, which will act as the clearinghouse for coordinating the people, places and practices that drive better outcomes for our youngest children. The Council’s structure allows for goal setting and shared decision-making to address what’s needed. The earlier we create an early childhood infrastructure for children and families, the better the guarantee we’ll have for a world-class city. I want that for Milwaukee, and for every child born and raised here.

4.You’re a son of Milwaukee, born and raised in the city’s north and west sides. What has education meant for your life?

TomBarrett-reading-with-boyEducation has opened countless doors for me. It has given me the opportunity to have a career and experiences I could never have dreamed of if not for the educational opportunities I’ve had.

5.What are the key ingredients for building an Early Learning city?

I recognize that the key to becoming an Early Learning city is the City’s leader acting as the executive convener for everything that touches our youngest learners in any educational setting. We need a keen eye for making sure they get the very best of the best. That includes community-based environments rich with resources, early childhood educators who are valued by profession and pay, and the assurance of seamless educational standards in every setting throughout the city.  My goal is to get us to that position of what I would call, our shared level best, and to do it as soon as possible.

Linda Shockley is a New York-based writer, and communications specialist for the Bezos Family Foundation.

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