Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
WUWM's Emily Files reports on education in southeastern Wisconsin.

Building Blocks: Augustine Prep Leaders Make Intentional Decisions For School Space

Rachel Morello
A look at what will be the front entrance for Augustine Prep, a voucher school opening this fall on Milwaukee's South side.

A new player enters Milwaukee's booming school choice landscape this fall: St. Augustine Preparatory Academy – Augustine Prep, for short.

Over the next five years, the private voucher school is expected to accommodate up to 1,700 students in kindergarten through 12th grade. That will make it the second-largest private school in Milwaukee’s Parental Choice program.

Funded by Waukesha businessman Gus Ramirez, Augustine Prep is going up on 5th Avenue, west of Interstate 94. The school enters a South side neighborhood that is particularly saturated with schools.

And construction is already underway on the massive, 11-acre campus.

Superintendent Alfonso Carmona says construction is 60-65 percent complete, only delayed slightly in Wisconsin's relatively calm winter weather. 

Carmona led a tour of the site earlier this week. And it's evident that school leaders put a lot of thought into how the physical layout of the building will affect how learning takes place.

Credit Rachel Morello
Augustine Prep superintendent Alfonso Carmona works in his makeshift office, in front of blueprints for the school building across the street.

Carmona and other school leaders are making intentional decisions when it comes to construction -- designing rooms with flexible purpose, as well as adding features with student and community needs in mind.

For example, elementary classrooms dot the first floor, two at a time -- connected by what Carmona has dubbed a "flex space." 

It's a closet-sized room Carmona says most schools might designate for teacher offices. But Augustine Prep leaders hope it can serve as a space for student interventions. 

"If I a student that requires bilingual services...or special education services, that intervention can happen here -- as close as possible to the classroom," Carmona explains. "You minimize transitions, but you also eliminate labels."

"The idea is flexibility," he continues. "We don't know who our students are. I don't know how many students are going to need intervention, what kind of interventions, I don't know how many students will have IEPs. So we are creating the flexibility to receive anyone that comes into our building, and then based on the profile of our students, we can start adapting the spaces to those profiles."

The second floor will house middle and high school student classrooms, grouped in "neighborhoods." Carmona says school leaders will help him decide how to organize those clusters.

"It could be [dedicated] to grade levels, it could be subject-driven," he lists. "We haven't made that decision yet, because...we still haven't hired our high school principal or our teachers."

"The beauty of building this project from the ground up, is not for me to make all the decisions. It's to involve other parties, and for other people to have input, to build a community school."

Administrative offices have a home on the second floor, too -- but they're smaller than your typical principal's office. Carmona says that's because administrators won't be the primary contact for student discipline. 

"There's not a lot of space for students to do detention, or things like that. We truly believe teachers should have the capacity to manage their classroom without sending their students 'to the office'," he explains. "In many cases, it's something that could have been solved in the classroom in one or two minutes. But now you send them to the office, this poor child is missing instruction."

The 15,000-square foot gym can also double as an auditorium. Carmona says the hope is to open the space up to the surrounding community to hold church services. 

Before school opens this fall, Augustine Prep leaders will focus on enrollment, teacher recruitment and curriculum development. 

Staff encourage local families to attend an open house event this Saturday, Jan. 28, from 10am-1pm. Attendees will have an opportunity to meet staff, and tour the building for themselves.