In the early 2000s, a high school was launched on the far south side without much fanfare. It was expected to be small, it was housed in part of an older Milwaukee Public Schools building, and, other than among those directly involved, expectations were modest.
Elsewhere on the south side, close to downtown, a large high school was launched with great fanfare, a striking new building, broad support, and great hopes that it would play an important role in building the workforce of Milwaukee’s future.
One turned out to be, in my big book, the best single development within the MPS main roster of schools in a generation. It was the unheralded small operation, Reagan High School, which has grown to well over 1,200 students and is known for its International Baccalaureate college-prep program.
The other turned out to be a sad, troubling disappointment: Bradley Tech. It had troubles from the time it opened in 2002, it has gone through waves of leaders and teachers, and it has never thrived. Few attend the school by choice. Discipline, attendance, and student success were weak.
Some measures have gotten worse in recent years and enrollment has declined. The technical and vocational programs it offers are actually good but are utilized by relatively few students. Overall, data suggest it may well be the lowest-performing large high school in the state.
A new effort, involving some of the biggest education and civic players in the city, was launched last week to turn around Bradley Tech, to make it “the Bradley Tech that was really promised,” as MPS Superintendent Darienne Driver put it. The heads of MPS, Milwaukee Area Technical College, and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee spread the word about how committed they were to Bradley Tech and how closely they are working together.