“Turning around schools is one of the toughest, and important, challenges we face in education,” said Jason Snyder, a deputy assistant secretary from ED, as he toured Milwaukee Public Schools’ Alexander Hamilton High School in May.
The school is in the midst of a transformation supported by a $750,000 federal School Improvement Grant (SIG) that began at the beginning of the school year. The SIG has funded multiple programs to improve academic outcomes for Hamilton’s diverse, 2,000-plus student population. The projects have included an extended school day learning opportunities, professional development for educators, literacy coaching for teachers, and teachers who specialize in assisting students who are struggling with reading and math.
Hamilton also has a new leader. Principal Rosana Mateo has focused her firstyear focus on building stronger relationships with students, staff, parents and community organizations.
“Leadership is about relationships. If you don’t have strong relationships, you don’t have anything,” she said.
The early results are promising. Over the past year, proficiency for Hamilton’s 10th graders increased by nearly 16 percentage points in reading and 9 percentage points in math. Student attendance has increased, and suspensions have decreased. While Snyder agreed with Mateo’s assessment of the turnaround effort as a “work in progress,” he noted that “this is never easy work – especially in large, comprehensive high schools like Hamilton.”
“With courageous leadership and strong collaboration among staff, Hamilton is making a real difference in the lives of its students,” Snyder said. “What I heard from students is that they are more engaged and are being given an opportunity to succeed.”
For example, one of the benefits of Hamilton’s large size has long been its substantial Advanced Placement offerings, which enable high school students to learn college-level material and possibly earn college credits. Among Milwaukee schools, Hamilton has the 2nd highest number of students taking AP classes. Through SIG funding, AP students now have the opportunity to get extra support at school to succeed in those rigorous classes.
Violeta Curiel, a Hamilton senior, credited teachers for helping to inspire student growth over the past year. “They go the extra mile. They’re here on Saturdays, mornings and after school when we need extra help. They care about us, and it makes us really care about school.”
Visit Milwaukee Public Schools’ website for more information and to see more photos.
–Julie Ewart is the Director of Communications and Outreach in ED’s Chicago Regional Office.