Keintz gives Metcalfe Park youth a head start
Carol Keintz is in her third year as executive director of Next Door Foundation in Metcalfe Park, a neighborhood that has drawn concern for its high poverty rate.
Metcalfe Park might not appear the best place to work. News coverage can make the neighborhood appear full of crime and the economy is tough – Keintz said about one in three homes is foreclosed. But she said the economy and news coverage hide the dedication many have for their community and for their children.
“Milwaukee has an untapped resource in just amazing people who believe in family and believe in their kids and really want to change the trajectory of their children,” she said. “And they’re working hard to do it. What you see on the news typically are the bad folks. What you don’t see all the other folks who are working really, really hard.”
It is these people Next Door tries to help. Keintz said its array of programs revolve around expanding opportunities for local children.
“We’re primarily focused on early childhood education,” she said. “We want to do it well. We are doing it well. Eighty-eight percent of our kids tested proficient in literacy and language in kindergarten this year.”
Part of doing well means hiring qualified teachers, Keintz said.
“We do what we can to raise the level of quality because we want to have teachers and supervisors who have the highest credentials and experience, because these children have the highest needs,” she said.
Keintz said retaining good teachers is hard because of burnout, especially when they and staff establish a connection with families.
“Our staff gets meshed with our families, and they feel that they’ve failed when they really haven’t failed; they’ve moved the family forward,” she said.
Next Door’s Educare program is one of 16 programs nationally that meets these needs. The program, which began in 2000 in Chicago and came to Milwaukee in 2005, mandates having fewer teachers per student, close monitoring of teachers by supervisors and an emphasis on assessment and research. It makes Educare different from other Head Start programs, but it also increases the cost, Keintz says.
“It’s sort of a prep school for low-income kids,” Keintz said. “Some of us talk about it being Head Start on steroids.”
She is no stranger to early education programs. Before taking the position as director at Next Door three years ago, she was at Dane County Parent Council,which has its own Head Start program.
Keintz said she tries to get to know the entire staff of Next Door, including Educare, even those who are separated by levels of supervisors.
“I try to make sure every day I try to tell one of my staff something they’ve done that has made a change in the families of the children here,” she said.