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Study: Community Partnerships Boost Student Performance at MPS' Carver Academy

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Rachel Morello
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MPS' Dr. George Washington Carver Academy, located in Milwaukee's Brewer's Hill neighborhood

new report from UW-Milwaukee researchers shows measured gains in student test scores and attendance at Milwaukee Public Schools' Carver Academy, thanks to partnerships with a handful of outside organizations.

Dr. George Washington Carver Academy, a K-8 MPS school in Milwaukee's Brewer's Hill neighborhood, had historically been a low-performing school. Test scores and attendance were concerning. The school was even recommended for closure back in 2011. 

In 2012, Janel Hawkins started her tenure as principal at Carver, and MPS won a grant from the Northwestern Mutual Foundation. They agreed to use the funds to strike up partnerships with three local nonprofits - Schools That Can MilwaukeeTeach for America-Milwaukee and City Year Milwaukee - to work alongside teachers, students and administrators throughout the school year. 

Each of Carver's partner organizations aligned their services to focus on four target improvements: 

  1. Instruction and learning
  2. Culture and climate
  3. Family engagement
  4. School leadership effectiveness

City Year's Americorps members and Teach for America instructors provided classroom support. Coaches with Schools That Can held weekly leadership coaching and professional development sessions. 
The district also commissioned a three-year study to track the impact of those various partnerships on student achievement and school culture and climate. 

The findings, released Tuesday, show largely positive results. 

Achievement improved on annual standardized tests. Students in five of the nine grade levels showed positive growth in math, and six of the nine in reading on the state's annual Measures of Academic Progress, or MAP, tests.

In addition, attendance improved, and the rate of student suspensions dropped from 41.2 percent in 2013-14, to 32 percent in 2014-15. 

Principal Hawkins says these statistics reinforce the importance of school climate on Carver students. 

"Some of the things you won't see in a report is the amount of kids in the morning [who] will say good morning to you," Hawkins says. "We were really purposeful about making sure we could infuse some joy."

"I think we realized adults as well as kids needed to be clear as to what was expected at Carver," she adds.

Hawkins says other changes - such as the addition of a daily assembly, have also contributed to a more upbeat and welcoming atmosphere for students. 

This "5-in-1 Collaborative" is currently the only one of its kind in the city. MPS Superintendent Darienne Driver says she hopes the Carver model can serve as an example for other district schools. 

She specifically cites efforts underway at four MPS Community Schools operated in partnership with the United Way of Greater Milwaukee, as well as the Milwaukee Partnership Academy run with help from City Year and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee

"There are a number of different strategies that we can take from the work that was done here to be able to scale collective impact across our district, and help us improve student achievement one building at a time," Driver says.

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