August 17, 2023: Summer Summit Roundup

The 9th Annual Wisconsin Public Education Network Summer Summit, hosted by the School District of South Milwaukee, is a wrap! Hundreds of public school advocates gathered at South Milwaukee High School last Thursday, August 10, to dive into our theme, Accountability In Action, and are walking away with the skills and the drive to dive into the new school year demanding and delivering exactly what public school students need and deserve — nothing less.

Photos courtesy of Pablo Muirhead.

The Summit couldn’t have been a success without the many volunteers and sponsors who supported the event; the South Milwaukee High School Apollo Jazz group and marching band for sharing their musical talents; Civic Media and Todd Allbaugh, who covered the event live at the high school and encouraged members of the public to support our work; and those who donated gifts to our auction and drawings.

We also appreciate the panelists and presenters who shared their stories and expertise with us! Thank you!

And we extend a particular thanks to the volunteers, administrators, staff, and educators at the School District of South Milwaukee and South Milwaukee High School for hosting the 9th Annual Summer Summit! We so greatly enjoyed celebrating the district, its music, and its student community.

Photos courtesy of Pablo Muirhead.

Our key reflections:

The Summer Summit brought together public education advocates from every part of Wisconsin and every angle or role that reaches our public schools—from administrators and board members to educators and staff to parents and community advocates to students themselves—on the tails of one of the most gutting, shocking, and disappointing state budget cycles we could’ve imagined. The eagerness to put accountability into action was palpable, and every session was directly tied to this urgent theme. Participants asked tough questions, held themselves accountable for understanding how school funding works, dove into the trickiest topics threatening students’ freedom to learn in urban, suburban, and rural districts alike, and collaborated to build a shared toolkit for better, louder, more effective advocacy in the coming year.

“We want to make sure we’re building and maintaining our collaborative relationships based not only on hard work but also on accountability,” State Superintendent Dr. Jill Underly said in her remarks at our Morning Meeting. “And to be clear, accountability is not about expressing disappointment—or at least not exclusively. It can be, and should be, also about expressing appreciation, or communicating importance, or proposing alternatives, all in the furtherance of our goal of stronger public schools.”

That statement captures the work of the Summer Summit perfectly, as we dissected where Wisconsin has gone wrong in delivering yet another less-than-inflationary budget and massive giveaways to private schools, but also where we have gone right, and in how we can amplify those successes in order to generate more of them.

To be clear, there’s a lot of work to do, and there’s no time to lose in doing it. Wisconsin continues to sit on a massive budget surplus that could still be put to good use. New legislation is coming down the pike as the school year begins. Many districts face a budget with less state aid in the new year than last year, and all of them face a budget that puts us on a path for 16 consecutive years of falling behind inflation.

“We’re not here to cheer for crumbs,” our executive director Heather DuBois Bourenane declared at the Summer Summit.

That’s why it’s on us—all of us—to hold ourselves accountable for telling our local-level public school stories, demanding strong, equitable public school resources, and staying involved at every level, every day. Please join us in putting Accountability In Action all year.

Follow-up resources:

  • Our full Summer Summit program is available here.
  • Summer Summit Archive! Almost all sessions and some breakout sessions are already archived on our website. Follow this page to access video recordings and other resources from the Summer Summit to refer back to sessions you loved, check out the ones you missed, and ensure that what was learned last Thursday stays with us moving forward. (We are continuing to update this page.)
  • If you attended or if you watch via the archive, please fill out this short feedback form so we know how to make our Summer Summits better!
  • Upcoming action opportunities:
    • Regular meetings of Wisconsin Public Education Network partners. Our regular partner meetings are held virtually via Zoom on the first Monday of each month from 3:30-5pm. These meetings are open to Network partners—those who share our core values and vision—and are designed to create a safe space for conversation and updates.
      • These meetings typically include local-level updates, legislative updates from education policy experts, and Network updates on the actions we’re taking around the state
      • Join us for our September meeting on Monday, September 11, with an update from special guests State Reps. Francesca Hong and Kristina Shelton. Registration is required as participation is limited to Network partners. Register here.
    • Public School Law Series: A three-part, interactive, action-focused seminar series via Zoom for public school community members, board members, administrators and Network partners: how school law works, how to maximize opportunities for connections, and how to best advocate for the public schools all children deserve. Register via the hyperlinks below:
    • Additional workshops on organizing your local community/getting a team togetherrunning a successful school referendum campaign, and pro-public media and messaging will also be offered this fall. Follow for dates and registrations.
  • Join the Network! Please visit to learn more about becoming a contributing partner, getting your school district to join us as a partner district, and getting involved where you live.

Follow news coverage of the Summer Summit and the issues it touched:

About the author: Christian Phelps

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.