Unsatisfied with the number of nontraditional schooling options within the Wauwatosa School District, one local group hopes to develop a school of its own.

Those driving the initiative, an assemblage of parents, educators and business leaders, look to open a re-imagined public high school in Wauwatosa.

The potential school, known as Pathways High, would address a desire for alternative high school options and 'better prepare students for the 21st century,' said Julia Burns, a Wauwatosa parent of five and a leader in the effort.

'We feel strongly that parents typically don't think about high school until their students are about to enter high school,' she said.

Nontraditional school options can already be found within the school district, including Wauwatosa STEM, a charter school centered on science, technology, engineering and math housed at Wilson Elementary School, 1060 Glenview Ave., and Wauwatosa Montessori, 12121 W. North Ave., an educational approach focused on independence, project-based work and hands-on learning.

Burns said many students and parents want more local, innovative options — especially one that lasts through high school, which Wauwatosa doesn't have. She said students who attend the STEM program through eighth grade often become 'frustrated and bored' when they later enroll in a traditional high school.

The group is taking cues from High Tech High — a public high school in San Diego which was featured in the film 'Most Likely to Succeed' and focuses on project-based learning methods — and the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia, another inquiry-driven, project-based high school which opened its doors in 2006.

Walker Elementary School in West Allis, a school that has received widespread attention for reshaping elementary education teaching and learning, is nearby, but backers of Pathways High want an option closer to home.

'We don't think it needs to be expensive,' Burns said of the potential new school, adding it could open inside an existing school building instead of a new building.

Organizers are seeking funding from XQ Super School Project, an initiative created by Laurene Powell Jobs, the widow of Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple Inc.

The campaign is meant to create high schools with new approaches to education by inspiring teams of educators, students, and other leaders to develop plans for high schools. Finalists win a share of $50 million to be divided from five to 10 re-imagined high schools or high school programs.

Pathways High has applied for funding from the XQ Super School Project campaign and will learn on April 1 if its submission has been chosen as a semifinalist.

'We know the odds of getting that money are pretty slim,' Burns said, adding the group is exploring alternate funding options, such as foundations and donors.

Burns said it's important that the Wauwatosa School District embrace the idea of a re-imagined high school. If it doesn't, organizers may have to pursue alternative locations in the Milwaukee area, she said.

Wauwatosa Superintendent Phil Ertl said he has not yet been involved with Pathways High and is unfamiliar with their mission. Ertl said the Wauwatosa STEM program began when he was invited to discussion with a group of parents as a way to keep Wilson Elementary School a viable building.

'As a district we are always looking for innovative ways to meet the needs of students and I am always open to hearing ideas people have,' he said.

Pathways High backers were expected to meet with Ertl Thursday, March 17.

Get involved

To view an online petition supporting the effort, visit

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