One of my greatest joys has been visiting schools where colleagues and friends are faithfully addressing the needs of their communities. As part of multiple projects in the past five years, I have visited schools all over North America; among my favorites are the DaVinci Schools in Los Angeles, The Bay School of San Francisco, and Hope Academy in Minneapolis. In 2019 I wrote a blogpost titled, A Year of School Visits: Four Lessons, sharing related lessons that inspired some of the Future Ready research visits.
Since then, I’ve visited schools in England, Canada, and Norway; connected virtually with schools in Africa, India, and Latin America; and wrote about my experience with my nieces’ and nephews’ school in another blog. I am consistently amazed at the great, though not easy, work in Christian education that is being done all over the world. These stories need to be shared, which is why I asked some friends to contribute to a CACE blog series about schools in their context that inspire innovation, offer hope for our profession, and contribute to the well-being of students and communities alike.
Personally, I could highlight so many schools that I have become acquainted with in the last two years, such as The City School in Philadelphia, Unity Christian Academy in South Holland, the virtual North Star Academy, and Pacific Bay Christian School near San Francisco. Through these visits, I have learned quite a bit about myself and what challenges I am drawn to in schools: those that come with urban settings, secular communities, and diverse student bodies that include various ability levels. In all these schools and situations, what impresses me are innovative solutions with ambitious goals, appreciation for the classroom teacher as a lynchpin for student learning, and a desire for deep community impact.
St. Augustine Preparatory Academy
But it’s St. Augustine Preparatory Academy (known as Aug Prep) on Milwaukee’s Southside where I have spent the most time the past two years. My visits to Aug Prep arose from my curiosity about the Milwaukee School Choice program. Through CACE’s Score Group project, I had worked with a struggling school that seemed to be kept afloat by the program, so I wanted to find high-performing Christian schools in the city that provided a better framework for maximizing the school-choice funding.
Built with support from the Ramirez Family Foundation, Aug Prep was founded in 2017. Their current expansion will allow them to educate 2400 students in K4-12. As far as private schools go, their student and family population is unique, and according to their website: “99% of students qualify for the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, 90% of families qualify for the federal free or reduced lunch program, and 96% of students come from a minority background.”
Also notable are the school’s achievements. For the past two years, Aug Prep has received a five-star rating for student learning outcomes. Highlights include their ELA and Math testing scores, shown below in comparison to local and state scores.
What makes these achievements even better is the ambitious and humble spirit exemplified in Aug Prep educators as they seek to improve student outcomes.
Lessons for inspiration
I want to highlight three inspiring lessons gleaned from my visits to Aug Prep.
Partnerships galoreAs you walk around Aug Prep, you feel a partnership mentality reflected in a desire to be part of a community and an understanding that work is better when done with others. For example, the school has a partnership with a well-known swim club to operate its aquatic facilities and programs. A local dental clinic provides services on campus. The school partners with local counseling and social services. Professionals from local companies visit classrooms as specialists and mentors, and regional colleges offer extra student programming in the summer.
Size and community impactOriginally coming from an Ed Reform movement that highlighted the benefits of small schools, I have seen many small schools make a transformative impact. However, Aug Prep has challenged me to consider how size and scale can benefit a larger community. For example, during one of my recent visits, I discovered that though crime in Milwaukee has increased just like in many American cities, crime on the Southside has decreased dramatically. The primary significant change in that time seems to be the opening of this school. Correlation does not prove causation, but I want to further explore how schools can and should be levers for local good.
Ambitious, but flexible
Lastly, Aug Prep is a place that is incredibly ambitious. Not only are there continued growth plans on the Southside, but with the purchase of the old Cardinal Stritch University campus, school and foundation leaders are exploring an opportunity to expand the impact to Milwaukee’s Northside. Whereas most successful schools would try to duplicate their model in another location, I appreciate how the Aug Prep leadership team and board is seeing this as a fresh opportunity: fulfilling the mission in a new context may need a different approach than what has been successful on the Southside.
Whenever you can, visit other Christian schools, especially ones that are daring and innovative. I am excited for you to hear from my friends around the world who will share in this CACE blog series, Schools That Inspire.