Diverse Committee Provides Advice

Milwaukee schools are using a unique advisory board to help them determine a direction for high school athletics.

By Staff

Athletic Management, 13.4, June/July 2001, http://www.momentummedia.com/articles/am/am1304/bbdiverseadvice.htm

Running the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) athletic program is a huge task. With 14 high schools and several other pilot schools to supervise, there is little time to account for the interests of all the constituents involved.

That’s why MPS administrators decided eight years ago to form the Interscholastic Athletic Advisory Committee (IAAC). Once a month, two representatives from six constituent groups—principals, assistant principals, athletic directors, coaches, parents, and student-athletes—gather to talk about areas of interest to the entire school district. The goal is to discuss timely topics and make recommendations about new policies.

“One person can’t possibly see everything that’s going on in the program and look at it from the viewpoints of all of the people who are involved,” says Janice Doleschal, MPS Commissioner of Sports and Athletics. “It’s very helpful to have people with different viewpoints come forward and share them.”

Doleschal has also found the group helpful for effecting changes in district athletics. “Whenever my office needs to go to the board or upper-level administration, we can say these ideas were discussed at the Advisory Committee, and that the committee is aware of the problem and behind the suggested solutions,” she says.

“For example, issues such as eligibility, funding for interscholastic athletics, and accountability of coaches repeatedly came up and needed to be dealt with,” Doleschal says. “Through the Advisory Committee, we were able to demonstrate support from all those different constituents when we brought issues before the MPS school board or superintendent.”

But the IAAC isn’t only a useful tool for Doleschal’s office. It also provides a means for participants to learn about the interests of the other groups represented. “For ADs and coaches, it’s a place to bring their concerns and find out what the others think about them,” says Gisela Benning, Athletic Director at Milwaukee North Division High School, who has served on the IAAC since its inception. “Sometimes, as an athletic director, I’m only looking at an issue from my viewpoint, and not from a parent’s point of view.”

The IAAC has also provided a forum for many others involved in Milwaukee interscholastic athletics. “People can feel lost in the shuffle sometimes, but the committee gives people an opportunity to speak up and be heard,” Benning says.

Student-athletes also gain from their participation. “It gives them the feeling that they have some input in athletics,” Benning says. “And not only do they have input on the committee, but they also report back to a district-wide Interhigh Council, which has representatives from each high school, and to their individual schools’ student councils.”

Although participation on the Advisory Committee is voluntary, some constituents—athletic directors, principals and assistant principals—have formal groups that regularly meet, so they are asked to nominate representatives. The athletic directors’ group is also asked to nominate coaches and suggest parent representatives from their schools’ booster clubs.

“We don’t arbitrarily put people on the committee,” Doleschal says. “Once the athletic directors suggest members of their booster clubs, then we make the contacts, ask if they’d be willing to serve on the committee, and tell them who recommended them.”

For the most part, committee members serve two-year terms, although they are free to participate as long as they wish. “But we like to have turnover; that way, you get new ideas,” Doleschal says. “And we try to get a range of participants, including people from different ethnic backgrounds.”

Meetings are held monthly and run by Doleschal’s assistant, Bill Molbeck, Supervisor of Sports and Athletics for MPS. But Doleschal’s office doesn’t provide an agenda.

“Sometimes we suggest issues, but that’s not normally the way it operates,” she says. “The whole purpose behind the Advisory Committee is for people to suggest things that need to be covered. Very often, what drives the committee is the discussion that occurs during the athletic directors’ monthly meeting.”

“The committee sets the agenda for the next meeting at the current meeting,” Benning adds. “Anyone on the committee can bring issues to the table, either during discussion of new business or by contacting Bill Molbeck.”

The IAAC has discussed a variety of topics since its foundation. “They have been as simple as changing some scheduling and as complex as changing eligibility standards,” Doleschal says. “But we don’t deal with a problem within an individual school, unless it’s of general interest to the school district.”

This past school year, the IAAC examined the academic standards for athletic participation at the suggestion of athletic directors and coaches. “The Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association (WIAA) minimum standards required passing four classes, but our eligibility standards in the MPS were one of the highest in the state—2.0 GPA per mark period and non-participation in athletics until this standard was achieved,” Benning explains. “We felt that we were losing too many athletes who couldn’t practice while ineligible.”

After many discussions, the committee recommended enforcing WIAA academic eligibility requirements for ninth- and 10th-graders in order to get more of them participating in athletics. The stricter MPS requirements, along with the WIAA standards, were recommended for juniors and seniors.

The new standard is currently before the school board this spring, but Doleschal is optimistic about its passage. “Every time we’ve come forward as a unified front to suggest changes in the eligibility requirements, we’ve been successful,” she says.

The IAAC doesn’t promote itself in the community, since it mainly serves an advisory role to Doleschal’s office and the school board. But despite its low profile, Doleschal calls the IAAC a “very successful tool” for the MPS. “We’ve gotten the input we’ve wanted, we’ve had the support, and it has lent credibility to ideas that have come out of this office or from the coaches or ADs’ groups,” she says.

Doleschal says another school district or even an individual school could easily set up a committee similar to the IAAC. “The first step,” she says, “is to identify people from each of the constituent groups who would be willing to come together and serve on this type of committee.

“How the athletic program is put together and where the responsibility for it lies will determine how you structure the advisory committee and to whom its recommendations are made,” Doleschal continues. “In many of our cases, recommendations are made to my office, and then we frame the information that needs to go on from here. But this could easily work the same way in an individual school, with recommendations going to a principal.”