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New principal hopes Trowbridge will be rediscovered

School to focus on ecosystems and Great Lakes

Aug. 16, 2007

When Milwaukee Public Schools officials earlier this year were entertaining the idea of closing Trowbridge School of Discovery and Technology, many Bay View parents shied away from enrolling their children at the school for the 2007-08 academic year.

Now Thomas Matthews, the school's new principal, is working to convince families to rediscover Trowbridge, 1943 E. Trowbridge St., and help make it thrive.

"My goal with this school is to create an attractive, viable choice for parents of the neighborhood - and anyone else citywide - where we can pay close attention to your child," Matthews said.

With a current enrollment of 188 students in a full-day program that includes 4-year-old kindergarten through eighth grade, Trowbridge class sizes are likely to be small this year.

Exploring ecosystems

Matthews is working with a team of parents, current and former Milwaukee School Board members, teachers and residents to revitalize the school's curriculum. He said the plan is to build an integrated curriculum around environmental studies, with a specific focus on freshwater ecosystems and the Great Lakes.

"We're the closest Milwaukee public school to Lake Michigan, and there's so much interest right now about Lake Michigan and the waterways close by, like the Kinnickinnic River," he said.

With the U.S. Coast Guard, Discovery World at Pier Wisconsin, Urban Ecology Center, University of Wisconsin and Great Lakes WATER Institute nearby, Matthews is hoping to tap environmental and educational resources in the area for the benefit of Trowbridge students.

"I am just energized by the positive attitudes of teachers, parents and the community," Matthews said.

Art emphasis, too

He is also energized by the prospect of building the school's arts program, despite budget woes in recent years that have been whittling away at arts instruction at many elementary and middle schools.

"I believe all schools deserve strong arts programs," Matthews said.

He is counting on the community to support that idea. Matthews said he will be reaching out to local arts organizations to help provide opportunities for Trowbridge students to explore the visual arts, theater, vocal and instrumental music, and dance.

Matthews comes to Trowbridge after 14 years at Roosevelt Middle School of the Arts, 800 W. Walnut St., where he started as a social studies teacher, was appointed assistant principal and then became the school's principal.

Prior to his stint at Roosevelt, Matthews taught fourth grade at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary and English at the Lincoln Center for the Arts in Milwaukee.

"After 14 years at Roosevelt, I was ready for a new challenge," he said.

He said one of the main attractions of Trowbridge, built in 1894, is the sense of history that infuses the building. Matthews is "really happy about the physical light" that streams through the school's windows, "which has a positive impact on student learning," he said.

A Milwaukee native

Matthews lives with his wife, Tracy, a teacher at Richards Elementary in Whitefish Bay, and their 4-year-old son, James, a student at Fernwood Montessori School.

For fun, Matthews spends time babying his 1973 Karmann Ghia and 1963 Thunderbird convertibles. He also counts 1978 and 1979 Vespa motorbikes in his collection of vintage wheels.

On Sunday mornings, he sings with the St. Francis of Assisi gospel choir in a traditional Catholic church on 4th and Brown streets.

Matthews grew up in Milwaukee's Sherman Park neighborhood and graduated from Bay View High School in 1981. He decided to attend Bay View High School because of its arts-centered curriculum.

Nan Bialek can be reached at amuehlbauer@cninow.com or (262) 446-6632.

FYI

For information on enrolling in Milwaukee Public Schools, call (414) 475-8448 or go to the district's Web site at www.milwaukee.k12.wi.us.

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