While summer vacation just began a few weeks ago for students and staff, Jeff Peterson is already looking forward to the fall and the 2013-14 school year.
That's because the Summit View Elementary School principal is excited about his school's new status as an official Integrated Arts magnet school and how it will help students in the future. It was approved by the Waukesha School Board at its June 12 meeting.
The process in Summit View becoming a magnet school started about two years ago when Peterson said the district looked at starting a fine arts charter school. Peterson, along with district officials and administrators, started a committee.
But he said this plan was "put on the back burner with the uncertainty in Madison" after Gov. Scott Walker's proposal to repeal collective bargaining for most public employees. And after the district decided to close White Rock Elementary School and make it an early childhood learning center last year, the initial plan was halted.
While the committee agreed it wouldn't go a full charter route, the type of instructional work of a fine arts school was embraced so the idea was to bring it into an existing school.
Besides now being able to apply for federal and state grants that other specialty schools can to help in this effort, the magnet school status integrates the arts and the creative process into every subject.
This could entail playing music while students work on math problems. It could involve more hands-on project based learning in science class. It could add theater when reading books to express characters in the story to involve the students in a different way, Peterson said. He added the school will continue to incorporate computers into learning as part of the innovation and technology portion of the magnet status.
"This is used to enhance learning," said Peterson, adding the school will now be called Summit View Magnet School of Integrated Arts, Design and Creativity. "It takes art and other subjects as one so they both benefit and continue to advance in the core content."
There have been professional development courses for teachers to take to prepare themselves. But Peterson doesn't anticipate many problems as many of the teachers have already been using this kind of teaching method.
"I saw a lot of teachers already using an arts-integrated focus in activities, so we thought if we brought the whole school in we could attract outside partners and could formalize ourselves as a magnet school in reaching more students," Peterson said.
For Peterson, it's about creating a brand and helping his school stand out during this age of open enrollment and vouchers.
"We want to better identify ourselves," Peterson said. "It's just another way of doing business. We're not losing anything by advancing our curriculum. We're really excited and we believe this will help our students be more prepared. We're taking (education) to a higher level and we have to as a way to be more competitive to attract funding to operate for the future."
This is the second magnet school approval in the last few months for the Waukesha School Board as it approved Hawthorne Elementary as a STEM magnet school because it has been applying the science, technology, engineering and math principles to its curriculum. The district also opened two STEM schools, a middle school and an elementary school, in the last few years.
So is applying for these type of specialty schools going to be a trend for other Waukesha schools without going directly the charter route?
Peterson said that's "the challenge for our superintendent" as schools become more diverse and looking to become more attractive.
"You're going to see all of our schools pursue the best opportunities for our kids," said Ryan Krohn, Waukesha School District's assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction/educational accountability, who was also the first Waukesha STEM Academy principal. "It's about helping them find success and taking it to the next level. We continue to encourage our school leaders to pursue enhanced learning and because of that new and innovative models come up."
Peterson said a survey was sent out to parents with questions regarding the expansion of adding an arts emphasis in all classrooms. He said a majority supported the plan.
"About 90 percent were in favor," he said.
Those not in favor, he said, had some concerns about the school "becoming too soft."
But he wants to ensure parents integrated arts learning isn't trying to replace any subjects.
"We're not reducing expectations," Peterson said. "We have high expectations and we're adding to it with the problem solving and the creative development. Integrated arts allows students to share what they know in a variety of ways. It's not always going to be with a pencil and paper that's being taught at traditional schools."
Peterson is entering his fifth year with the Waukesha School District after spending time as an assistant middle school and elementary school principal in the Oak Creek-Franklin Joint School District and the Raymond School District teaching fourth grade in Racine County.
"I experienced integrated arts teaching as a student and teacher, so I thought that was the traditional classroom," Peterson said. "I always thought creative was part of the classroom.
"I came to Waukesha knowing they support innovation and strive to exceed educational standards. So as the principal I knew I'd be given the support to try these opportunities."
Superintendent Todd Gray said Summit View will continue to serve students in that attendance area, but will now be open to other K-5 students throughout the district.
Peterson said Summit View will allow students to apply for a transfer request at Summit View, 2100 Summit Ave., until July 10.
While Krohn said there is no guarantee that by having a magnet status the school will get more grants, it "draws attention to the school."
"Teachers' practices are evolving and the school has a solid foundation and will take more and more steps along the way to improve," Krohn said. "It won't all change overnight but you will see deeper partnerships year after year."
Charter Schools vs. Magnet Schools
Charter Schools: Charter schools are independent public schools that are tuition-free and open to every student, according to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.
They are publicly funded by local, state and federal tax dollars based on enrollment, like other public schools and held accountable to state and federal academic standards.
Charter schools create a culture by adopting a theme. For example, some focus on STEM education, performing arts, project-based learning, college preparation, career readiness, among others.
The Waukesha School District serves students at six charter schools: Waukesha STEM Academy (two campuses), Harvey Philip Alternative Charter School, Project Change Recovery School, Waukesha Academy of Health Professions, Waukesha Engineering Preparatory Academy and iQ/eAchieve Academy.
Magnet Schools: Magnet Schools are free public elementary and secondary public schools of choice operated by school districts or a consortium of districts, according to the Magnet Schools of America.
Magnet schools have a focused theme and aligned curriculum to themes like STEM, Fine and Performing Arts, International Baccalaureate, and International Studies, MicroSociety, Career Tech, World Languages (immersion and non-immersion), among others. Magnet Schools are typically more "hands on – minds on" and use an approach to learning that is inquiry or performance/project based.
They use the state, district, or Common Core standards in all subject areas. However, they are taught within the overall theme of the school.
The two magnet schools in Waukesha are Hawthorne and Summit View elementary schools.