The Wauwatosa parents behind a potential re-imagined high school, Pathways High, are pushing forward despite hitting obstacles with the Wauwatosa School District.
Julia Burns and Amber Regan are two local moms who, between them, have nine students in Wauwatosa schools. Both are dissatisfied with the number of nontraditional education options for high school students and have ventured out to develop a new school to better meet those needs.
The proposed school, known as Pathways High, would address a desire for alternative high school options and better prepare students for the 21st century, Burns said. Organizers have sought funding from XQ: The Super School Project, an initiative created by Laurene Powell Jobs, the widow of Apple founder Steve Jobs.
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 new education opportunities. Finalists win a share of $50 million to be divided between five and 10 reimaged high schools or high school programs. If there are ties, it's possible that the top 10 schools receive $10 million each, Burns said.
Pathways High has been named a semifinalist in the competition, said Burns. Nearly 700 submissions were received in the project's first round.
Now those behind Pathways High are working to create a business plan for the school, including where it would be located, technology to support its students, infrastructure, staff and training, said Burns. The plan is due May 23, and organizers have devoted every last drop of energy to ensure they meet the deadline.
The endeavor has included its fair share of obstacles, said Regan.
'Our preference would be to have it (in Wauwatosa),' Regan said of the proposed school. '(But) the response here has not been favorable.'
Burns said meetings with school district officials offered little hope; school leaders said it would be unrealistic to develop plans for the proposed school before the next deadline.
'We're disappointed, clearly,' Burns said. 'I think what bothered me the most about the response was that it seemed to be lacking creativity.'
Burns said it was disheartening to see the district lack 'a willingness to problem solve' when it came to the possibility of winning $10 million through XQ: The Super School Project.
'We weren't really asking for dedicated resources,' she said. 'A more openness to say, 'Let's roll up our sleeves and figure out how to make this work,'' she said.
It's been a dream of Burns and Regan to open Pathways High in Wauwatosa, but they are now exploring other school districts and have tossed around the idea of Pathways High being a charter school.
'It feels irresponsible to leave the opportunity for $10 million,' Regan said. 'We all hear that we don't have enough money to make our schools do great things. Here's a place to find it. It's our civic responsibility.'
Superintendent Phil Ertl said the district became aware of the proposal and then approached Pathways High organizers about it. He said he didn’t know how long it would take to develop a new high school, but he noted it took a year for the district to develop its secondary math curriculum.
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., which provides an educational approach focused on independence, project-based work and hands-on learning.
Burns has 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.
Pathways High organizers are taking cues from High Tech High — a public high school in San Diego that 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.
Two upcoming free screenings of 'Most Likely to Succeed' are scheduled for 4 and 7 p.m. May 4 at Wauwatosa West High School's theater, 11400 W. Center St. Space is limited.