Ellen Gilligan: Optimism Amid Big Problems

Posted on Categories Education & Law, Marquette Law School, Milwaukee, Milwaukee Public Schools, Public, Speakers at Marquette

A wave of new leaders is one of the reasons to believe a new initiative to improve Milwaukee’s overall level of educational success can bring progress, one of the most influential of those new leaders said Tuesday at Eckstein Hall.

“I think it’s huge” that people who weren’t part of past events are now stepping into key roles, Ellen Gilligan, president and CEO of the Greater Milwaukee Foundation, told Mike Gousha, the Law School’s distinguished fellow in law and public policy in the last “On the Issues” session for this semester.

Gilligan is the key figure behind the recent launching of Milwaukee Succeeds, an effort that has brought together more than 40 key leaders and organizations with the goal of improving Milwaukee’s record in moving children successfully “from cradle to career,” to use the effort’s subtitle.

Asked by Gousha how she responds to those who have been skeptical of what the effort can accomplish, Gilligan said she shows them “a lot of optimism.”

“Timing is everything,” she said. “Sometimes the stars align. Sometimes there are opportunities for certain things to happen that might not have happened 20 years ago.” She thought Milwaukee was ready for an effort such as this one. One of the reasons? The election of Gov. Scott Walker and the aftermath of that election, which, for better or worse, she said, created a climate in which working together had a stronger draw to more people.

And then there’s the new-leader factor. Gilligan came to Milwaukee a year ago from Cincinnati, where she was a top figure in that city’s community foundation and where she was deeply involved in launching the Strive Partnership, an effort that is a model for Milwaukee Succeeds. She is one of several relatively new figures in major positions in Milwaukee.  

“I am an eternal optimist and I don’t think we have a choice,” Gilligan said. “That’s part of sending in new troops. You have fresh blood who view this situation differently, who are not beaten down by past history. I am not beaten down by the past history. I am optimistic that we can make a difference and that we have to make a difference. We don’t have a choice.”

Gilligan said she was not very interested in taking part between advocates for Milwaukee Public Schools and advocates for Milwaukee’s private school voucher program. “I’m not sure it’s terribly productive,” she said. “I’d rather focus on the children.”

She said the concerns underlying Milwaukee Succeeds are matter such as whether third graders can read on grade-level, not whether they went to schools in MPS or charter or voucher schools.

She told Gousha Milwaukee Succeeds is “a process” and not “a program.” No new initiatives were announced in launching the effort. Instead, participants are working on creating a list of key, measurable indicators that can show whether Milwaukee is making progress. Then, the focus will be on how to align efforts throughout the city to improve outcomes. She said it is an effort that will take years.

She said she views herself as “a collaborative leader.” But she clearly is determined to  push forward

To watch the video of the “On the Issues” session, click here.

One thought on “Ellen Gilligan: Optimism Amid Big Problems”

  1. This is the same thing I have been hearing since I moved to Milwaukee to attend MULS. If you had a car with 300,000 miles on it and it was falling apart, would you spend $25,000 on it to “fix” it? Now consider the car is MPS. It’s a broken down, archaic system that is old, rotten and broken beyond repair. We need to start over with something new and eliminate all “voucher” schools as they are mostly a scam on the taxpayers.

    Talk is cheap. The current system harms the people of Wisconsin. It cannot be fixed in its present state any more than Sensenbrenner Hall could be fixed to accommodate the vast increase in students attending MULS.

Join the Conversation

We reserve the right not to publish comments based on such concerns as redundancy, incivility, untimeliness, poor writing, etc. All comments must include the first and last name of the author in the NAME field and a valid e-mail address.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.