Jennifer Blatz, interim CEO of StriveTogether, makes a visit to Milwaukee

Dear Friends,

On Monday of this week Northwestern Mutual and our Co-Chair John Schlifske graciously hosted our Milwaukee Succeeds Partnership Meeting, to share our new 2017 Annual Report (click here to download), understand how our work is anchored in the national StriveTogether strategic plan, and discuss the important of equity and eliminating disparities as key to successful outcomes for all kids. Jennifer Blatz, interim CEO of StriveTogether did an excellent job of presenting the 5-year StriveTogether network strategic plan.

It was a great partnership meeting!

Here is a link to the national StriveTogether “Better Systems for Better Outcomes” five-year plan that emphasizes organizing systems around students, not institutions.

After Jennifer’s presentation (click to view), I moderated a great panel discussion highlighting our “Bright Spots” of how we are creating success for every child, in every school, cradle to career.

(Left to Right: Vincent Lyles (Boys and Girls Clubs), Dr. Darienne Driver (MPS), Dr. Vicki Martin (MATC) Dr. Bill Hughes (Seton Catholic Schools), myself, and Jennifer Blatz (interim CEO, StriveTogether).

Some highlights from the conversation:

Dr. Driver: A bright spot for me is the work that’s happening in college and career readiness. It’s one of the areas where MPS is very closely aligned with Milwaukee Succeeds. The FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) completion rate. We went from 49% to 72% in one year! It is the key to making college affordable because it unlocks access to federal financial aid, state loans, grants and scholarships. This was a community-wide effort where everyone was on board. When there is evidence that a strategy is working we need to apply it to other areas.

Vincent Lyles: My bright spot is the leadership we’ve received from the business community. This is important. We need all the sectors to come together to recognize how important this work is. We are also making strides around getting our parents engaged, and we have to keep going. We cannot sit here and expect what we do at the Boys and Girls Clubs is going to make a difference to a child if their parent isn’t engaged. We need to meet our parents where they are and help support them support their kids.

Dr. Martin: I really like how Milwaukee Succeeds, M-7, MATC, MPS and so many other groups are working together. We have a strong vision and we are co-creating together. The shared leadership is helping us work together. Milwaukee Succeeds sets clear targets so we all know what we are working towards, and then we organize ourselves and expand ourselves to include all the audiences that need to be participants. It’s helped us to focus and move the needle.

Dr. Hughes: One of the things that I’m hopeful about is how Milwaukee Succeeds is developing leadership and talent. Milwaukee Succeeds is driving this for our city. At Seton Catholic Schools, we say we are going to be an exporter of talent. This takes into account what the millennial generation is all about. They aren’t necessarily going to be in one organization for an extended period of time. They will have different careers. We need to keep them in the city, we need to grow them, and we need to develop them.

Dr. Driver: Has to be all hands on deck. It means students, their families, teachers…but also everyone in the community too. It’s changing the conversation of taking pride in ourselves in what we do. Once we have some evidence of what works, let’s stick with it. Let’s do whatever it takes to make it happen. Too often we allow ourselves to lose momentum if we lose a grant or a principal turns over. We let stuff go. If we have something that works, everyone has to play a role. If we have a strategy that is really working, let’s go all in.

Finally, Milwaukee Succeeds Co-chair Jackie Herd-Barber closed our meeting with these inspiring words:

On behalf of my co-chairs, John Schlifske & Mike Lovell, we thank Danae and Team Milwaukee Succeeds, Northwestern Mutual, The Ballmer Group and StriveTogether for this partnership gathering. This has been awesome and I’ve learned a lot.

My takeaways are:

  • Quality collective impact has to be the focus to make a difference in children’s lives
  • Targeted investment to leverage more public & private support
  • Review what student success looks like
  • Remember the focus should be on the kids & families
  • Race, equity & inclusion is important & we must be committed to addressing the issue.
In closing, please imagine every student being positioned for post-secondary education of their choice.


  • No brain drain in Milwaukee
  • State Tech colleges & universities full of students
  • No shortage of people in the construction trades
  • And you, as leaders, could spend a day a month writing letters of recommendation for students wanting a post-secondary education.
I’d like for all students to have the same opportunities that my children had. They should be academically qualified to attend the academic institution of their choice, whether it is Harvard or University of Minnesota as my children selected.

I urge us all to double our support for Milwaukee Succeeds community strategies. If you aren’t engaged, please join us. We need you!

Thank you Jackie. I couldn’t have said it better myself.


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