Bradley Tech High School has always been one of the jewels of Milwaukee Public Schools. For the first 70 years of its history the school supplied many of the machinists, draftsmen and tool and die makers that made our city the Machine Capital of the World. The 1990s moved the school from the machining of old into new technologies. A partnership between business, educators and civic leaders, along with a $20 million gift from Jane Bradley Pettit (daughter of Harry L. Bradley, founder of Allen-Bradley Company) allowed for the construction of the state-of-the-art trades school that stands in the shadow of its namesake.
Bradley Tech has slightly higher GPAs than other district schools, hovers around the average score on the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Exams and has a higher graduation and stability rate than the district as a whole. It is a school with much promise.
While the idea is a good one – provide early training in trades, engineering and communication – the school has been plagued by violence. A brawl broke out following a basketball game in Jan. 2007, resulting in four Milwaukee Police officers being injured and an 18-year-old woman suffering a seizure.
In 2009, six girls started a fight at the end of the day, which was watched by over 100 students. Another fight between a number of boys started in an adjacent area. This event made headlines when a Milwaukee officer was punched in the face by one of the girls and sixteen students were arrested.
This year, fights have been even more common, with two fights in November alone. On Nov. 10 a small fight resulted in a lock-down of the school, which MPS officials said was done because school administrators “wanted to send a strong message.”
Then came Nov. 30. Another small fight at 2:15 p.m. erupted into a full-blown incident as other students joined in or watched, while still others called non-students to the schools via cell phone. Numerous officers and sergeants responded, and within one hour of the event 18 juveniles were arrested, including 3 who are not Bradley Tech students. An 18-year-old was also arrested and a sawed-off rifle and fake handgun were supposedly confiscated.
In the days following the fight, 2-person MPS squads have been increased around the school and neighborhood throughout the day, with 14 squads now regularly patrolling the area. So far, there have been no further incidents.
These events play into the paranoia people have about MPS schools, and in Bradley Tech in particular. And one person who plays on that fear the most is Alderman Bob Donovan, chair of the city’s public safety committee and a member of the anti-graffiti committee.
During the past week Donovan issued a press release with his take on what happened at the school, demanded a meeting with school and police officials, issued a subpoena for all of the MPD’s Open Sky communication system documents and has demanded that all police dispatches and 911 calls be disseminated to the media. Following the fight in 2009, Donovan called for the closing of Bradley Tech in response to the violence.
“The information I’m relaying to the public was not – to my knowledge – reported by the news media, nor am I aware of any information about the incidents being shared with parents of Bradley tech students,” Donovan said in a press release on Dec. 7.
“It is unconscionable to me that the citizens of Milwaukee haven’t been made aware of this situation at the school, and it’s an insult to all Bradley Tech parents and students that this matter has been kept under wraps. It’s also an insult to the decent teachers and staff at the schools, who must work in chaotic and sometimes violent conditions.”
Police and school officials held a meeting with the public and heard a multitude of suggestions as to what needs to change at the school to ensure safety.
As reported in the Dec. 9 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, one of the solutions would be to change the transportation policy for the district school. Now, students ride yellow school buses after the cost of supplying MPS students with Milwaukee County Transit passes became too expensive for the district. But one member of the public suggested, and policy makers seemingly agreed, that MPS should return to county transit for students.
The thought process is that now, students are transported on school buses to their campus but choose to skip classes. Instead of having the ability to get back on an MCTS bus and leave the area, the truants are forced to remain in the neighborhood (in this case Walker’s Point) and cause problems.
Are we as a community and taxpayers supposed to seriously consider returning to a more expensive transportation method for students, because it will allow truants to leave the area and take their mayhem and foolishness elsewhere?
Instead, we should implement Superintendent Dr. Gregory Thornton’s idea of removing troublemakers from the school.
“Everyone needs to be educated, but not everyone needs to be here,” Thornton said during the public meeting.
It is unfortunate that some students don’t have the social skills to behave themselves in a classroom or school environment. Economic distress and lack of parental involvement can lead to this, as does the involvement in gangs. These students have a right to an education, but in a highly controlled situation.
Changing how they get to school and allowing them an easier way to get away from school if they don’t want to attend won’t end the problem – educating them and instilling in them the behaviors necessary to be productive, contributing members of our society is what is needed to stop the violence. MPS has schools set up for these students and should move quickly to remove violent students to them.
Only then should we look at other alternatives, like changing the color of the bus the kids take to school.