Riverwest Schools at Forefront of Innovative Strategy for Success

by Peggie Schulz

La Escuela Fratney and Pierce Street Schools together comprise 20% of the ten MPS schools named in October 2012 as GE Foundation Demonstration Schools. 

The GE Demonstration Schools will create comprehensive plans to help their students meet – perhaps even exceed – the Common Core State Standards that have been a part of MPS’s overall curriculum planning since 2010.

The Common Core State Standards spell out what students should be learning at each grade level.

MPS Superintendent Gregory Thornton is happy to welcome the GE Demonstration Schools project to MPS and the contributions those schools will make to help all of MPS deal with the standards.

“We must raise the bar to measure progress toward college and career readiness.  Our students and families deserve it,” he says.

The GE Demonstration Schools will be supported by part of the $20.4-million, five-year grant made by the GE Foundation to MPS in 2011. 

Pierce Street School, 2765 N. Fratney, and La Escuela Fratney, 3255 N. Fratney (both Kindergarten through Grade 5), were among 42 MPS schools deemed eligible to apply to be GE Demonstration Schools.  The 42 schools were chosen based on being relatively in the middle of the pack, neither at the very top nor the very bottom in terms of student success, according to MPS officials.

Teachers from each school were actively involved in preparing their respective applications.  The Milwaukee Teachers Education Association also provided significant assistance in the development of the overall program. 

With this announcement, and the physical presence of Rethinking Schools in the Riverwest community, expectations for and support of public education in this community have never been higher. 

Keith Carrington, principal at Pierce Street School, is “overwhelmingly excited that we are a GE Demonstration School.”  This is Carrington’s first year at Pierce.  He previously served as principal at 65th Street School.

“What a way to kick off my first year as principal at Pierce!” he says.

Carrington’s enthusiasm and confidence are fed by the “phenomenal staff that really believes in pulling together to do what’s best for children” at Pierce, he says.  “I’m not saying that just to say it – it’s very true about my staff.”

Sylvia Llanas Buckman, Assistant Principal in Charge at La Escuela Fratney, is equally excited about her school being named one of the 10 GE Demonstration Schools.

“I was very excited, very thrilled and excited, and a little bit surprised,” she says.  “We got it, we got it!” she exclaims, followed by, “OK, we have a lot of work ahead of us.  But, anything worth getting is worth working for.”

Llanas Buckman, like Carrington, is new in the principal position at her school.  She replaced the very popular, outgoing principal Rita Tenorio, who retired at the end of the last school year after 32 years with MPS. Llanas Buckman says, regarding the fact that two of the ten GE Demonstration Schools are in Riverwest, “That’s just so great for the area.”

Looking ahead to the near future and what this designation means, specifically for La Escuela Fratney, Llanas Buckman says, “We need to keep reminding people of the fact that it’s a dual language program, focusing on Common Core standards. We’re kind of out there at the forefront, learning how we’re going to make it happen.”

Both La Escuela Fratney and Pierce Street already have added two staff positions as part of the GE Demonstration Schools project.  Each school has a new full-time math teacher and a full-time literacy coach.

The two schools also will share one part-time culturally responsive teacher. 

Llanas Buckman explains, “That teacher resource will focus on some multi-cultural education, which is really needed.”  She says the culturally responsive teacher will assist the administration of both schools in assessing how to integrate multiculturalism into some of the Common Core standards.

Carrington is busy preparing all of his staff members and students for the near future, too.

“We have discussed how we’re going to roll out our deep dive into the Common Core State Standards,” he says.

Carrington sees their primary and long-term goal as continuing to keep students engaged.

“The challenge is for teachers to differentiate their instruction to meet the various needs of the students, to meet them where they’re at,” he says.

As far as challenges, Llanas Buckman is well aware of some of the hurdles specific to La Escuela Fratney’s dual language program.

“The Common Core Standards focus on the English language,” she points out, “but a lot of those skills transfer when you’re learning both Spanish and English.”

“We have to look at it through a lens to say, ‘Yes, this is focused on English,’ but we can be the leaders to say, ‘We can get better at it.  We can make it work for us and for others.’”

Both principals appreciate the community’s enduring support of their schools.  Volunteers always are welcome.


Escuela Fratney /

Fratney School (MPS)

Sylvia Llanas Buckman, Assistant Principal Grades K4 to Grade 5

3255 N Fratney St 414.267.1100 www5.milwaukee.k12.wi.us/school/fratney

Dual Language: La Escuela Fratney is a city-wide Specialty School offering dual language classes in English and Spanish within a multicultural, multilingual, anti-racist environment. The school is one of 10 MPS schools recently selected as a GE Foundation Demonstration School


Pierce School (MPS)

Keith Carrington, Principal Grades K4 to Grade 5

2765 N Fratney St 414.267.4400 www2.milwaukee.k12.wi.us/pierce

Bilingual: Pierce School has a Bilingual Program (Spanish/English) as well as English as a Second Language (ESL) courses. The school is one of 10 MPS schools recently selected as a GE Foundation Demonstration School (see article, previous page).

Community Partners: Pierce School works extensively with the Urban Ecology Center, the Milwaukee Art Museum, the Riverwest Health Initiative, the Herzfeld Foundation, UWM School of Nursing, First Stage Children’s Theater, the Milwaukee Ballet, Riverwest Artists Association, Arts@Large, and Woodland Pattern. The school also has a real-time weather station with a 24/7 connection to the Automated Weather Source (WITI-FOX6).