Wendell Waukau is being honored as a Champion of Change for his efforts in school turnaround.
True change cannot happen in our schools without a comprehensive plan for school improvement that’s consistently implemented over time and involves the community at large. The proof that such plans work can be seen at Menominee Indian School District (MISD). Our district in Wisconsin is the only one in the state to be located almost entirely on an Indian reservation.
About seven years ago, we began our school improvement journey. While academics are a focus, the effort extends far beyond academics to include healthy eating, physical activity, Menominee language and culture, and on-site health care services. The results include dramatic gains in graduation rates; improved student learning, test scores, student attendance and retention; and vastly improved student behavior.
Our improvement efforts started at Keshena Primary School (KPS). Most of our KPS students come through Head Start and go on to Four Year Old Kindergarten, or 4K, which helps prepare them for school. At KPS, we have a focus on core academic skills, technology and the integration of Menominee language and culture, an important component of education for the vast majority of our students who are of Menominee Nation origin. In addition, we engage and partner with our students’ families, offer healthy eating and lifestyle programs, and on site health and dental care.
At Menominee Indian Middle School, there’s been a focus on improving student reading and comprehension skills. The result is that students are more comfortable and confident about reading; test scores back that up showing continuing, sizable gains. The achievements have resulted in the school receiving a number of prestigious awards, including the Breakthrough School Award from the National Association of Secondary School Principals and the MetLife Foundation, and the designation of an Exemplary Middle School by the Association of Wisconsin School Administrators.
A key component of our work at the Menominee Indian High School is the Freshman Academy. It is literally a “school within a school.” The academy has its own principal, teachers, and area within the building. The Academy helps students adapt to high school and provides them with skills and services they need to succeed. Assistance ranges from tutoring to accessing social services, to teaching life skills and family involvement. Just five years ago, only half of the 9th graders at our high school went on to tenth grade. Now the retention rate is well over 90 percent. In fact, an impressive 94 percent of the first Freshmen Academy students graduated this year. Overall, MISD’s graduation rate is up by more than 10 percentage points from the previous year and senior test scores broke records.
In addition to the programs and efforts mentioned above, there are a number of other initiatives that are making a difference in our schools, including early warning systems have been adopted and tailored for student interventions for dropout prevention; a Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) program that has helped with student behavior and security; a close relationship with the Menominee Tribal Elders, who serve as resources for the district’s culture and language programs; and a partnership with the University of Wisconsin-Madison called the Pre-College Enrichment Opportunity Program for Learning Excellence (PEOPLE), which gives highly motivated students an opportunity to explore and strengthen their academic and career interests and gain a positive experience on a world-class campus.
As you can tell, it is not one single program that makes a difference; it is all of the programs together that create success. It is very gratifying to receive recognition for all the hard work done by students, families, teachers, staff, school board members, administrative leadership and the community as a whole. While we appreciate the recognition, and are happy others are noticing what we’ve accomplished, we’re not done yet. Change does not happen overnight and it doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Our positive results have come about through hard work and collaboration. We still have a ways to go, but everyone in the community should feel good about what’s been accomplished.
Wendell Waukau is the superintendent of the Menominee Indian School District.