Carol Voss doesn't want to leave her neighborhood to find a high-performing high school for her son.
But like some Bay View neighborhood parents, she feels her current options are limited: Reagan High School on the south side has a wait list, Rufus King and Milwaukee High School of the Arts have substantial bus rides, and nearby St. Thomas More High School has parochial-school tuition.
So Voss and a group of neighbors have started pushing for a different option. They're throwing their grass-roots activism into reviving Bay View High School, a once signature Milwaukee secondary school that has been plagued in recent years by behavioral problems, low test scores and a reputation for being unsafe.
Specifically, parents want Milwaukee Public Schools to implement a college preparatory academic track at Bay View that encourages and supports high-achieving students, similar to how International Baccalaureate programs have been implemented in other district schools.
The hope is that a college-prep program combined with the federally mandated reforms already under way at Bay View will not only help improve the school, but also attract more Bay View families to their community high school.
A meeting at Bay View Middle/High School, 2751 S. Lenox St., last week between parents, teachers, administrators and new Milwaukee School Board member Meagan Holman raised all of those issues. The school became a 6-12 grade program when the former Fritsche Middle School program moved into the Bay View building last year. Enrollment is expected to be 1,761 students this fall.
Holman said she and the parent group will research a variety of college-prep options and discuss them with Superintendent Gregory Thornton in September.
"This community wants to stand up for itself," Holman said. "We take a lot of pride in our neighborhood, and now we need to put that same kind of creative energy for our community into our high school."
Situated near Humboldt Park, Bay View is within walking or biking distance for hundreds of families that send their children to nearby elementary or K-8 schools in MPS.
But last year, only 7.5% of the high school's enrollment - 86 out of 1,153 students - lived in the school's attendance area, according to district figures. Meanwhile, 839 Bay View attendance-area children attended a different MPS school.
A variety of issues over the years made Bay View High School less attractive to neighborhood parents, but persistently low test scores and a low graduation rate put an extra spotlight on the school in 2009-'10. That was when Bay View was identified as one of the lowest-performing schools in the state, based on a federal formula.
Daily attendance that year was about 77%, and 780 students were suspended, according to state data.
After the school was tapped for aggressive reforms prescribed by the federal government, consultants were brought in to help work with the school. The changes have helped put Bay View on a better track in the 2010-'11 year, said Dennis Queen, the head of the "metro" region of schools in MPS getting prescribed reforms.
Queen said Bay View was the only one of nine metro schools that made gains on the annual state achievement test in reading and in math between the fall of 2009 and the fall of 2010.
"Bay View also had a reduction in suspensions over the previous year, and student attendance was way up," Queen said. "You look at those soft and hard indicators, and Bay View was one of our leading metro-region schools."
Voss will have to decide soon where to send her son to high school - he's entering seventh grade this year. She's pulled by her commitment to the neighborhood and the desire to send her child to the best school possible.
"It's a real tug-of-war," said Voss, who co-founded the Bay View Neighborhood Association and started the Chill on the Hill summer concert series in Humboldt Park. "I don't want to be one of those people who throws up the white flag and runs off to the suburbs. I don't want to be one of those people just in it for myself and my kid."
Robert Crowley, a parent of two children ages 5 and 7 who helped launch the group Parents for Bay View Schools, said many local parents would really like a school their children could walk to.
"I'm an optimist," Crowley said. "I have no doubt that Bay View will be a viable option once my children are old enough to go there."
Holman, the new school board member from the Bay View area, said she feels like it's the right time to push the college-prep track. The superintendent has a year under his belt and understands the desires of the neighborhood, she said. The new principal at Bay View can build on the progress of last year's principal, Robin Kitzrow, who retired. There's money available for reform efforts, and many are showing promise. Parents are on board.
The school also has some attractive features, like Project Lead the Way and Advanced Placement classes. According to a recent federal survey, the school offered seven AP courses in the 2009-'10 school year, but only 3% of students took at least one of those courses.
The school is also in its third year of a project now called the Milwaukee Observatory, in which Bay View students create art and history exhibits with the help of staff members at Discovery World museum. This year and last year, the students installed the exhibits on the lawn of the Beulah Brinton House, headquarters of the Bay View Historical Society, 2950 S. Superior St.
Youths who participated last summer said it acquainted them with the neighborhood and its residents.
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