Getting ready for the new year: random notes on schools

Yesterday, I stopped at Allen-Field Elementary on Lapham Boulevard to drop off some school supplies that our friend Steve Palec, programmer Nick Barth and I had collected for kids at the K3-5 school with more than 700 pupils.

It was a hot day and the school was abuzz with activity as teachers and staff – who officially had to report the day before, but had in most cases already been in the building for weeks or days ahead of that – working to get their classrooms ready, hallways decorated, the library in order, etc.

And, yes, they all looked very professionally dressed, per the new district dress code. In describing it to me earlier this week, a teacher told me the rule of thumb for footwear is, “If you can wear it in the shower, you can’t wear it to school.”

Traditional-calendar Milwaukee Public Schools open on Tuesday, Sept. 3.

As soon as I walked into the office and asked for Rene Blazel, the first grade teacher I met via social media, Principal Marybell Nieves Harris came over to say an enthusiastic thank you for the modest collection of notebook paper, notebooks, colored pencils, crayons and a coveted box of 500 shiny new yellow pencils given to me by Palec.

Blazel gave me a tour and I met a dozen or more teachers who glistened a bit with the sweat of the day’s work, but who – to a person – wore equally glistening smiles and the kind of first-day-of-school fire that keeps these folks going.

There are many challenges at Allen-Field this year but this is clearly a team that will rise to meet them.

Over at Maryland Avenue Montessori on the East Side, finishing touches are being put on two new temporary classrooms that have had all kinds of names over the years – portables, demountables, barracks and, egads, trailers. A century ago, barracks were erected at many schools – including Maryland Avenue (though on the opposite side of the building) – as the district attempted to keep up with growing enrollments. Some high schools, like Bay View and Pulaski existed in on-site barracks while their buildings were being planned and built (obligatory plug: you can read about that in my book, “Historic Milwaukee Public Schoolhouses“).

While enrollment overall isn’t growing, some schools, like Maryland, have popular programs that are housed in buildings with limited space. But, often, the school’s location is a key part of its brand, so while moving to a larger, empty school sounds like an easy solution, it isn’t always that simple.

These two new classrooms, which are heated and are the only classrooms in the building (an amalgam of three structures built in 1887, 1893 and 1951) with air conditioning, do look a bit trailer-ish from the playground side, but they’re still nicer looking than some may have expected.

From the street view heading north on Prospect Avenue, the new corridor that connects the rooms to the building is much nicer, with a stucco-like exterior accented with wood finishings.

The work was done by MPS’ own facilities team with the assistance of Bay View’s Foundation Architects. Together they crafted an attractive short-term solution (there are no foundations, the corridor and classrooms sit on footings). The classrooms are expected to be up for two or three years as the school works with the district to address long-term space issues.

Speaking of Maryland Avenue Montessori, the school is one of three that will be offer tours during Doors Open MKE on Sept. 21-22. The others are Golda Meir (Fourth Street School) and Eighth Street School (home to Project STAY and the New School for Community Service).

All three are the work of celebrated Milwaukee architect Henry C. Koch. While Golda and Eighth Street are open to all from 10 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. on Saturday, the tour of Maryland (which I’m leading) is an in-depth tour open to Historic Milwaukee Inc. members only. None of the three schools is open on Sunday, Sept. 22.

Finally, Principal Andrea Corona tells us that a mere 10 K4 seats remain at her MacDowell Montessori program at the Juneau Campus on 64th and Mount Vernon. It’s a chance to join a great community.

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