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Belief in student ability key to success at Milwaukee charter school

By   /   January 2, 2014  /   No Comments

Part 40 of 100 in the series Educating America

By Mary C. Tillotson | Watchdog.org

Pascual Rodriguez said he won’t hire teachers who feel sorry for the low-income, often Hispanic students his school serves.

“Don’t come in with a passive attitude, ‘I feel sorry because you’re Latino and you’re impoverished,’” he said. “I want teachers not because they feel sorry and want to give back to the community, but because they know our kids can learn just like any other demographic in the state.”

YES YOU CAN: High expectations and no excuses make the kids at Bruce Guadalupe Community School perform well academically.

YES YOU CAN: High expectations and no excuses make the kids at Bruce Guadalupe Community School perform well academically.

Bruce Guadalupe Community School, an independent charter school in Milwaukee, serves students from age 3 to eighth grade. The school is 97 percent Latino and 80 percent of the students’ families meet low-income requirements for free and reduced-price lunch. Though the school is not bilingual, many of the students enter speaking little or no English.

Yet the students’ test scores are competitive with wealthier schools that don’t need to teach their students English, Rodriguez said.

“Black, white, green, yellow — I’m going to treat you like you’re the smartest individual and you can learn, and I’m going to set those expectations high,” he said.

In a typical year, Bruce Guadalupe receives about 200 applications for only 30 seats in K-3, or kindergarten for 3-year-olds, and 100 to 150 applications for just 40 seats in K-4. Applicants are chosen by lottery, and any students applying later than age four have chances of  “slim to none” of being accepted, Rodriguez said.

The school is planning to expand in the next few years to accommodate more students.

High expectations and a student-focused approach keep the school running and get the kids educated, he said. Teachers and administrators aren’t afraid to upset the status quo if it isn’t working.

When teachers and administrators noticed their sixth-graders had limited science skills, for example, they built a science lab for elementary students. Science scores rose, and sixth-grade science teachers could begin the year teaching at a higher level than they had been.

Students and classes have peaks and valleys in performance, he said, and sometimes all it takes is some tweaks in how the material is presented. But other times, as with the science lab, more dramatic measures are needed.

“We don’t just change on a whim,” Rodriguez said. “If it doesn’t work one year, well, let’s uncover every stone and see what went wrong.”

Since teachers spend the most time directly with the students, he makes a point to listen to them and understand their concerns before making decisions.

“I’m the lead principal here. My job is to hire people smarter than me,” he said.

For years, the school taught students one grade level ahead in math, and the system was working well.

But recently, “we were noticing that the kids aren’t getting it. The teachers were wondering, ‘What’s going on?’” Rodriguez said. “So we decided we need to go back to grade level, and it’s made a difference. Our first graders are first-grade material; our K-5s aren’t.”

It took humility, but the students’ needs took priority, Rodriguez said.

“It sounds real nice and fancy to say, ‘We teach our kids one level ahead,’ but in our circumstances, we were doing our kids an injustice,” he said.

Rodriguez has no illusions that poverty doesn’t impact students’ academics, but he refuses to lower expectations because of it.

“Poverty does have an impact. A child goes home that doesn’t have access to a computer, that is in front of TV because the parents are working — that just means we have to work a little harder and provide more services after school,” he said. “If we do that, they will perform.”

“We don’t buy the excuse that they’re poor. That’s just some other districts’ excuse to explain their test scores.”

Contact Mary C. Tillotson at mtillotson@watchdog.org.

Part of 100 in the series Educating America
  1. Arizona mom won’t give up on special needs kids, no matter what state says
  2. Reviving a 1970s lawsuit, DOJ would keep black students in failing schools
  3. Relocating sexually abusive teachers would be more difficult under Pennsylvania bill
  4. DOJ backpedals on Louisiana voucher lawsuit
  5. Court says charter schools won’t pay for Atlanta’s pension debts
  6. Biggest education impact from shutdown? Furloughed bureaucrats
  7. Appeals court upholds Arizona school choice program
  8. Indiana’s voucher program expands; diversity a factor in one family’s choice of school
  9. ‘Vouchers don’t do much good for students’ claim is false
  10. NYC mayor’s race could affect school choice
  11. Vermont public school goes independent, raises ire from state bureaucracy
  12. Arizona education savings accounts aren’t vouchers, study says
  13. Legal institute fights Alabama union’s attempt to repeal school tax credit
  14. Experts: School choice improves education in public schools
  15. SC school-choice program helps special needs kids, could expand
  16. DOJ wants Louisiana parents out of voucher lawsuit
  17. U.S. House passes bill to prevent ‘passing the trash’
  18. ‘Non-traditional’ journalists barred from viewing tax-funded test results early
  19. New center hopes to help charter schools help kids with special needs
  20. Charter school advocate to Philadelphia schools: Listen to parents
  21. $45 million not enough for Philadelphia teachers’ union
  22. Study: Rhode Islanders support school choice
  23. Study: Choice would help failing Chicago schools
  24. Scholarships could lift SC school dedicated to real-life, hands-on learning
  25. Parents make good school choices, study says
  26. Divisive charter school reform bill headed toward vote in PA
  27. In Louisiana school voucher lawsuit, DOJ changes gears
  28. Opponents sue Washington to overturn charter school law
  29. School choice proponents’ challenge? Educating parents
  30. Judge: Federal oversight may not hamper school voucher program
  31. PA lawmakers push to amend tight teacher furlough policies
  32. College ready: A Milwaukee inner-city school success story
  33. Proposed economic furloughs could slay sacred cow of seniority in Pennsylvania schools
  34. What is Massachusetts doing right?
  35. Goldwater to appeal Louisiana school voucher decision
  36. Want to end poverty? Educate the kids
  37. Breakdown in Philly schools not only about the money
  38. North Carolina scholarship program on firm legal footing, attorney argues
  39. Philadelphia school district threatens charters
  40. Belief in student ability key to success at Milwaukee charter school
  41. Three things to know about Philadelphia’s school budget: Debt, pensions and safety
  42. Choosing to sue: Here’s a look at some 2013 lawsuits involving school choice
  43. Philly charter schools outperform district counterparts
  44. California students sue state over ineffective teachers
  45. Study: Public supports parent choice in education
  46. Under new management, Philly Renaissance Schools show growth
  47. New Orleans tops school choice index
  48. AZ to consider four school-choice expansion bills
  49. Florida family ‘blessed’ to be apart of scholarship program
  50. PA lawmakers put education at top of agenda in election year
  51. Louisiana: Feds ‘more interested in skin color than … education’
  52. Charter school for Philadelphia foster children will not be renewed
  53. Governor ties proposed PA education funding to targeted grants
  54. Vermont attempts to take independence from independent schools
  55. WA’s first charter school serves children, families of ‘extreme poverty’
  56. Philly stumbles on way to simplifying enrollment system
  57. Plan for Philly schools keeps charters in check
  58. Missouri ballot initiative would increase funding for public, private schools
  59. New York charter school focuses on family, community
  60. NC school vouchers on hold
  61. WI voucher bill would help special needs students denied open enrollment
  62. Philadelphia schools will end another year in red
  63. PA universities expect state, students to pick up tab on rising tuition
  64. Two ESA bills get House support in AZ
  65. Thousands rally to support New York charter schools
  66. California’s defense begins in Vergara trial
  67. Accountability or overregulation? Charter supporters split over Minnesota bill
  68. PA considers empowering universities to authorize charter schools
  69. Bill would make Florida students eligible for scholarships
  70. To test or not to test? Florida school choice proponents split
  71. Philly school district broke, but the pay is good
  72. Philadelphia charter school sues public school district
  73. Colorado Supreme Court to hear school voucher case
  74. Vermont to reconsider education funding formula
  75. Arizona Supreme Court allows school choice program to stand
  76. Massachusetts charter school bill revived
  77. Quality schools matter more than racial integration, black leaders say
  78. FL again takes up school-choice bill
  79. Choice Media’s videocast tackles host of education issues
  80. Ending teacher seniority rules beyond Philly requires legislative action
  81. New website helps Detroit parents choose schools
  82. Philly schools caught on funding merry-go-round
  83. Louisiana bill would coordinate school choice programs
  84. New D.C. charter school lottery eases but doesn’t eliminate waiting lists
  85. Federal bill attempts to help replicate high-quality state charter schools
  86. Philadelphia schools awaiting taxes from city, state
  87. ACLU alleges discrimination in 138 NJ districts
  88. MN anti-bullying bill could have unintended consequences
  89. Mississippi’s special needs bill to return next year
  90. Illinois considers three-year ban on virtual charter schools
  91. Violent Philly high school source of worry
  92. Auditors examining troubled Philadelphia school district
  93. Civil liberties organization sues to overturn anti-bullying law
  94. Legal conflict over teacher seniority in Philly heats up
  95. Academics, culture help mom choose private school
  96. PA cyber charter schools could be funded by state, not districts
  97. Arizona expands school choice program
  98. The sticky statistic of statewide charter school performance in PA
  99. Louisiana offers new vocational technical program
  100. Benefits are driving high personnel costs in Philadelphia schools

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Mary Tillotson