Thursday, October 23, 2014

Frances Starms
by Jennifer Tomazic

MILWAUKEE -- "Frances Starms is a wonderful woman. Frances Starms is a wonderful name," sing children at two Milwaukee Public Schools with pride.

They're singing about the woman who their schools are named after and who was a pioneer of education in Milwaukee.

Frances Starms spent her life educating the youngest of kids within MPS and the oldest of kids at UWM. She passed away in February at the age of 97 but her legacy still lives on.

"Tens of thousands of students are continuing to carry on her legacy of greatness, hard work, and determination," said Clavon Byrd, principal of Frances Starms Early Childhood Center and Frances Starms Discovery Learning Center, "and that's what we need in our community."

Byrd says Starms was part of the fabric of his school and continued to support his schools by reading to the younger students and mentoring the older ones. He says she also attended each K5 and 8th grade graduation ceremony and took pictures with each and every student while sitting in her rocking chair.

The driver to educate was always in her blood, said her niece Sheila Miller. For as long as she can remember, Starms taught. Miller says she was a kindergarten teacher and she also taught education classes at UWM. Starms eventually became the first director of the Head Start program within MPS.

"She had an open heart and she loved education, loved education," said Miller, who Starms raised.

People were always over at Starms house, Miller said, and she and her husband would help them with whatever they could.

"She taught me that I could be anything and she exposed me to a lot of culture," said Miller who learned to play the piano from her aunt.

Besides playing music, Starms loved dancing to it.

"She was in her 80's and 90's and they would come get her to dance," said Miller.

But it wasn't all fun and games with Starms. Miller says she was very strict with her and her own children. "It made us better," said Miller.

Starms was the first living person to have a school named after them within MPS, and Miller says that was just one of the many honors Starms received throughout her life.

"It wasn't something she'd sit and brag about. It was part of life," said Miller.

Starm's passed along that humbleness to Miller and her love of education: Miller eventually found herself teaching a kids how to be an entrepreneur at Washington High School.

Back at Frances Starms Early Childhood Center, Byrd says he learned the importance of lifelong learning from Starms.

"She taught me that no matter how old you are, no matter what you've accomplished in life there is still room to accomplish more," said Byrd.

Because of her numerous accomplishments, Starms was recognized by Rep. Gwen Moore on the House floor in Washington, D.C. after she died.