Navigating the system: Milwaukee
Live in or around Milwaukee? We did the homework to help parents make informed choices about the city's schools.
Learn more on what to look for when touring schools in these videos:
Video: How to find a middle school
Video: A guide to private schools
By GreatSchools Staff
When Annie Gentil and her husband set out to register their son for a Milwaukee area public school for 2010-2011, they found the experience especially frustrating. "It has been a ridiculous process filled with poor communication," said Gentil.
As with roughly a third of Wisconsin's school districts, Milwaukee's offers separate kindergarten programs for 4- and 5-year-olds. When a "5K" teacher was laid off at the family's neighborhood school, 95th Street Elementary (GS rating 3), the Gentils' son was placed on a waiting list and eventually assigned to Emerson(GS rating 1), a school in another neighborhood across town. But Gentil admitted her situation could have been worse, as a neighbor's daughter was not admitted to any school and remained on a waiting list. "There's really no appeals process," said Gentil. "All you can do is wait it out."
Enrolling a child in a large public school district — especially one as complex and diverse as Milwaukee's — can sometimes feel like a Herculean task. But there's a method to the madness — or, at least, approaching the process methodically can prevent some of the frustration.
Researching Milwaukee schools
While you're searching for a school, it helps to begin with your community and those people who know your child. Talk to your friends and neighbors for their ideas about local schools and what makes sense for your child. After learning what you can from your community, begin a search on GreatSchools.org, browsing schools to find out more about ones you've heard about.
GreatSchools has a local program based in Milwaukee to help parents make informed choices about school, including free, local workshops and a hot line (414-297-9715). The GreatSchools Milwaukee site offers in-depth information for parents interested in enrolling their children in the area's schools. GreatSchools' Milwaukee School Chooser is a handy, exhaustive guide that outlines the choices available to parents in the clearest possible terms — including a guide to school visits and indexes of schools according to high test scores and thematic curriculum. You can download it here or pick it up at school fairs or GreatSchools workshops.
Milwaukee's schools give priority to families registering a child for their neighborhood (or "attendance area") school. Families list their top three choices, and, according to the district's website, the great majority of students get into the school they want.
School admissions are determined based on the number of kids who apply. For the 2009-2010 school year, 94 percent of new students were assigned to the school they listed as their first choice, and 99 percent got into either a first-, second-, or third-choice school.
But what makes Milwaukee's school system special — and potentially so complicated — is that there are many options beyond the neighborhood school.