Scent of success wafts from some schools; how do we expand it?

This weekend, Dave Begel – a veteran of school administration – posted a blog about his grandson’s MPS school – the same school Begel’s children and his mother attended.

He wrote:

“I’ve been struck by the disconnect I see between these kids and the dismal performance record of the Milwaukee Public Schools system.

“I see these kids walk down the hall, orderly, being disciplined and respectful of classmates and adults. I see the bright faces, eager for what the day brings. I look at their classrooms, filled with color and achievement.

“I watch them respond when things get a little out of hand. A couple of hand claps and a voice or two and these kids are back in line. Nobody’s pushing or shoving. Nobody throws anything.

“These kids are enjoying their day. If you’ve been around long enough, you can tell when children are enjoying themselves and when they are bored or unhappy. These are kids who are enjoying themselves.”

When I read that, I almost think he’s talking about my child’s school, though I know he’s not. In fact, I still remember getting a tour of the school from the now-principal. It was my first time in a building I’d seen nearly daily for a couple decades.

The sense of calm, the sense of purpose, the smiling kids who were, to a one, well-behaved and engaged in doing something, was a revelation. There were no kids staring out the window looking bored, none wandering aimlessly in the hallways. There was no screaming, no horseplay, no rowdiness.

I filled out the enrollment forms on that visit and hoped we’d get in.

I’m reminded of what Abby Ramirez, executive director of Schools That Can, told Mike Gousha last week at Marquette Law School during an “On the Issues” interview.

Ramirez urged the dozens in attendance to take the first step toward change by visiting a successful school and seeing what it looks like. There is, she said quite rightly, a feeling, an atmosphere, a vibe. The smell of success is in the air. You feel it the minute you walk in.

And she’s right. The problem is that few people take the time to visit and few believe that scent is wafting through MPS. But it is. Certainly not in every school and certainly not enough.

But while everyone searches high and low for examples of success to build on, many Milwaukeeans don’t realize there are these flashpoints in the district already.

The challenge of the current administration – and teachers and parents and students, too – is how to replicate these successes. Growing the Montessori program is an example. Expanding language immersion. But there’s more.

The school of which Begel speaks is not a language school, nor is it a Montessori. It’s not IB. It’s a traditional elementary school in which the entire school community is actively engaged in creating success.

How one harnesses the attitude, dedication and spirit of everyone from students on up to the principal and packs it into an air freshener that can spread the scent of success throughout the nearly 200 schools in the district is the work that must be mastered.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *