The 12th-largest district in Wisconsin, the West Allis-West Milwaukee (WAWM) School District takes its obligations quite seriously. With just over 9,200 students and 1,000 employees, including certified staff and support staff, WAWM is a suburban district that has some demographic characteristics of an urban environment. Nevertheless, WAWM has achieved Adequately Yearly Progress (AYP) status in all schools district-wide every year since No Child Left Behind (NCLB) was implemented.
WAWM has 17 schools: 11 K-5 elementary schools, three intermediate schools for grades six to eight, two comprehensive high schools for grades nine through 12, and a learning center for high school students who need alternative structures and supports beyond the comprehensive high school environment. It has an overall free and reduced lunch rate of 57 percent and a cultural diversity rate of about 36 percent. WAWM also participates in the state open enrollment program.
Now that Wisconsin has been granted a NCLB waiver, the district will adjust to a new standard of accountability based on state report cards. This is one of many areas where WAWM is actively planning for change in the coming years.
As far as curriculum is concerned, WAWM’s academic efforts are structured around the national common core standards that the state has adopted. Curriculum is built using the Build Your Own Curriculum software package, but everything is based on national standards so all schools have the same focus.
“Curriculum delivery fits what matches the individual needs of the school and grade level, but everyone has the same common core,” Superintendent Kurt Wachholz says.
Another important piece of WAWM’s approach to academics is its common student data system, Infinite Campus. The web-based system tracks all academic information on students so teachers can follow their achievement and growth. Data is broken down by the school, grade, classroom and individual student.
Ultimately, WAWM strives to put children first in its decision-making, focusing on learning and outcomes. The three pillars it sees as the foundation for student success are developing relationships with students, identifying the relevance and focusing on the rigor of high expectations in academics.
“Relational initiatives help provide an environment where the kids can learn,” Wachholz says. “We need to make learning relevant so students understand why and what they are learning through practical implementation of curriculum. We have high expectations for students to grow and achieve, using MAPS testing assessments of students three times a year to monitor their growth rate, and using the DesCartes learning continuum resource to target skill area deficiencies. This way, we can transfer assessment results into instruction and learning.”
The next steps in learning at WAWM will be focused on next-generation learning and 21st century skills. Wachholz says the district has an obligation to build a community of independent, inquiry-based learners because the expectation of a global economy in the near future is that people must engage in lifelong learning.
“We know that there will be jobs that don’t exist yet that today’s students will be involved in, and we must set the stage so our students will be able to meet 21st century expectations,” he says.
At the elementary level, WAWM devised personalized learning plans for students based on a twofold concept. Part one is focused on giving students a voice in learning selection. The second is the creation of educational continuums in reading, math and writing to eliminate gaps in achieving and learning. There have already been 34 classrooms at WAWM’s elementary level that have engaged in this initiative, and an additional 16 will start on it in September.
At the intermediate grades, WAWM is working on independent, inquiry-based learning by teaching students how to learn online. At the high school level, the effort is focused on science classes and blended learning, using a combination of classroom and online learning.
“We’ve also partnered with the business community to form a career/technical education [CTE] committee to identify the employability skills necessary for our next generation work force,” Wachholz says. “Another part of our effort is a one-to-one iPad initiative. In three years, all our students and teachers will have an iPad as a tool for learning as we move from static learning to engaged learning.”
Other recent efforts for the district have focused on facilities, although not in the traditional sense of building new schools. Instead, the district is looking at new ways of revenue generation. The district has 17 sites and 23 buildings because it is one of 27 districts in Wisconsin with a school-based recreation department. Its last new building was built in the 1970s and about one-third of its facilities date to the 1920s.
However, its facilities are in good shape because the district has put capital improvement funds toward maintenance, as well as using periodic referendums to fund infrastructure improvements. Because state funding for new construction has dried up, WAWM decided to look for ways to consolidate services and generate revenue without reducing educational opportunities for children.
The district found a way to do just that thanks to the site of the former Allis-Chalmers Manufacturing facility. The old Allis-Chalmers factory had long since been redeveloped and repurposed, but its executive offices had been maintained but never really put to new use.
The district purchased the two executive office buildings out of receivership. It renovated them and consolidated some services there, which allowed the district to put three ancillary facilities up for sale. From a revenue-generation perspective, the district rents out the bottom floors of both buildings to Lakeland College, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s social welfare school, the Milwaukee Area Technical College and the Wisconsin Bureau of Child Welfare.
“The money from those leases pays for the operational costs of those buildings and brings in another $600,000 in revenue annually, which we apply to our educational programming in these very challenging economic times,” Wachholz says.
WAWM has proven its ability to think creatively about its challenges. It knows financial shortfalls will continue, which is why it is actively pursuing state and federal grants, and working with the University of Wisconsin at Madison to distribute curriculum on social emotional learning and career planning, which will provide the district with royalty fees.
The district is also aware that it must find ways to transfer the success it had with AYP to the new state report card. And WAWM knows it must move forward with the development of its effort to create independent, inquiry-based learners.
“The goal for our district is to create and connect programs that allow all kids to learn, achieve and be successful,” Wachholz says. “We will work together to put children first and continue to make a difference.”