6 characteristics of 5 successful Milwaukee schools

Alan Borsuk:

When people talk about how to improve a school, they often focus on things such as reading or math programs.

These can be important. But if you’re looking for the real drivers of quality, look to the people working at the school and the culture they create. That’s the conclusion of a team of veteran educators that looked at five successful schools in Milwaukee over the last couple years.

The five schools have a range of approaches on how and what to teach. With such differences among them, the team, including four University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee education professors and a retired suburban principal, wanted to find out what the schools have in common that underlies their success.

“That’s what the struggle is — trying to find, what is it? What is it?” said Julie Kremer, the retired principal.

So, with underwriting from the Suzanne & Richard Pieper Family Foundation, they immersed themselves in the schools. The five researchers were Robert Kattman, a former North Shore superintendent and retired director of the UWM charter schools office; Paul Haubrich, also a retired head of the charter office; Alfonzo Thurman, former dean of the UWM School of Education; William Kritek, a retired professor; and Kremer.

The five schools they examined were Milwaukee College Prep, Woodlands School, Bruce-Guadalupe Community School, Seeds of Health Elementary School and Young Leaders Academy. As part of the shrinkage of the Milwaukee YMCA, which previously ran Young Leaders, that school is now part of Milwaukee College Prep. At least 90% of the students at all but Woodlands are either African-American or Hispanic.

The report cards for individual schools and districts across Wisconsin, released last week by the state Department of Public Instruction, show why the five deserved attention.