Making Adjustments for Real Impact

Hanna Jadin is the Founding Dean of Students at Milwaukee Excellence Charter School, which first opened its doors in the 2016-2017 school year and currently serves 240 6th and 7th graders. Milwaukee Excellence is located in 53206, an area featured in the documentary, “MILWAUKEE 53206” as the highest incarcerated zip code in the country. Their school operates today in the site of what used to be the lowest performing elementary school in the city. Their mascot is the Phoenix, which, to Milwaukee Excellence, symbolizes the lowest performing school rising from the ashes.

The school is located just nine minutes from the highest performing school in the state and they often use the #9minutes hashtag as a constant reminder of their unrelenting mission to close that gap. 

At the outset, Milwaukee Excellence’s first classes of 6 & 7th graders were scoring, on average, at a second-grade level in math and third-grade level in reading and only about 20% were scoring above the 50th percentile on their MAP assessments. Behavior issues were so rampant that academics weren’t getting the focus they needed. The areas for improvement were massive.

In the past year, Ms. Jadin and Maurice Thomas, Founder & Executive Director, embarked on a data-driven mission to change the school conversation from a discussion of detentions, send-outs, and suspensions to a dialogue about real academic results and achievement.

“A good day in our first year of school was based solely on behavioral data (i.e. the number of students on in-class separation, the number of send-outs, etc.). We wanted to shift the focus from behaviors to academics, not only for our kids, but for their families.” – Hanna Jadin, Dean of Students, Milwaukee Excellence Charter School

As a first step, Mr. Thomas and Ms. Jadin detailed a meticulous 7 step process for using data to inform academic and cultural changes, and they were very disciplined about following this process for every initiative they launched: 

  1. Plan and Execute Data Dive 
  2. Identify Trends or Problems in the Data & An Ideal Outcome
  3. Brainstorm Adjustments for Improvement
  4. Receive Feedback on Potential Solutions
  5. Roll Out in Detail to Staff → Students / Parents
  6. Execute on Plan
  7. Evaluate Progress & Revisit Data

Schoolrunner partnered with Mr. Thomas and Ms. Jadin on steps 1,2 and 7 by providing a platform on which they could gather and analyze their school’s data. But where the creativity, courage, and sheer genius came in is on steps 3 through 6: what the team at Milwaukee did – and continues to do – with that data. Below are just a few examples of how the team at Milwaukee Excellence used their data to enact real cultural and academic change at their school:

  • “Order of the Phoenix” Weekly Data Tables:
    • The Milwaukee Excellence leadership team compiled a data pack that they distribute staff-wide on a weekly basis. This “Order of the Phoenix” publication shows weekly exit ticket scores (by teacher and school-wide), Special Education data, and math & reading intervention quiz results. For the math & reading intervention quizzes, Ms. Jadin and Mr. Thomas use MAP data to group kids by MAP scores, and assign them to teachers who give targeted instruction and assessments on a weekly basis. According to Ms. Jadin, making all stakeholders aware of their individual and schoolwide weekly data and achievement has made their staff feel more invested in the results.
  • Daily Recognition:
    • On a daily basis, Ms. Jadin makes a school-wide announcement of a Student of the Day, which she determines based on real-time GPA as well as the number of daily Affirmations (or Merits). In this daily announcement, Ms. Jadin also announces the class with the highest GPA. This daily public recognition has inspired friendly competition throughout the school, and drove one of their advisories to increase their GPA 1.55 to 2.6 in one week. 
  • Weekly Professional Development Data Sharing:
    • Every Friday, Milwaukee Excellence hosts a staff-wide data sharing session in which teachers discuss their data, what went well, what didn’t, and brainstorm how to improve next week. According to one of their 7th grade math teachers:

“These data-sharing sessions are really helpful because I share an intervention period with another teacher where we administer a common assessment. Every Friday, we sit down and review the past week’s assessment data so that we know what topics our kids have mastered or what we need to review next week. That way, I don’t have to sit there on Sunday and try to remember what I did last week and guess what might work next.” – Andrew Faber, 7th Grade Math Teacher

  • Incentives Requiring GPA Criteria:
    • Formerly, Milwaukee Excellence’s incentives for school events (i.e. field trips, dances, etc.) had been behavior-based, but including an academic element has been a strong incentive for students to improve their GPA. For example, the school hosts a Reading Royalty Lunch with specific subject GPA requirements and they distribute “swag” (i.e. sweatshirts and t-shirts) for students who hit certain “Honors” requirements. Additionally, their school dances and field trips have very specific GPA and behavior requirements. For example, a “Welcome Back & Boogie” dance required zero send-outs, zero uniform violations, and 96% attendance. Generally, their learning excursions, which are monthly events that have historically included a trip to Skateland, college visits, and the “Black Panther” movie premier, require 96% attendance, a 2.5 GPA, no more than 3 after-school detentions, a “yes” confirmation vote from every staff member, and a rigorous application. In order to hold students to these strict guidelines, Ms. Jadin partners with Schoolrunner to gather and analyze this data on an up-to-the-minute basis, as kids scramble to get their academics and behavior up to snuff so as not to miss these coveted events!
  • Weekly School-wide Reflective Writing based on Slips:
    • Every Friday, all students participate in a reflective writing exercise in which they’re encouraged to think about their week’s work and come up with goals for improvement. Kids look at their Slips for the week – which detail the week’s behavioral and academic data, down to the specific assessment level, including real-time GPA – and fill out a google form that goes to Mr. Thomas and Ms. Jadin. According to Ms. Jadin:

“This reflection and goal-setting exercise has empowered students to use their own data to take control of their learning.” – Ms. Jadin

  • Extracurricular GPA Minimum:
    • In their effort to place more focus on academic results, the Milwaukee Excellence leadership team began to enforce a 2.5 GPA minimum for extracurricular activities (sports, music, etc.). Ms. Jadin or another member of the leadership team attends these after-school activities with a clipboard listing up-to-the-minute GPAs. As a result of this strict enforcement, students who love their extracurriculars (and who doesn’t?) have an extra incentive to bump up their GPAs. Ms. Jadin shared a story of one student, D.J., who showed up at his sports game shortly after this minimum GPA rule was enacted and was dismayed to find that Ms. Jadin had a clipboard with all the kids’ GPAs. He only had a 1.67, so he had to watch his team play and lose the game. D.J. took the loss personally, blaming himself for it. He then raised his GPA from 1.67 to 2.57 in time for the next game to make sure he could play for his team.
  • Increased Awareness/Focus on the Importance of GPAs:
    • When their students started at Milwaukee Excellence, most of them didn’t really understand what a GPA is, how it’s calculated, how to change it, and, most importantly, what it means for your future. Ms. Jadin set out to increase students’ awareness and understanding of this crucial measure of success. Every student has a chromebook and uses Schoolrunner to log in and view their GPAs in real-time, and they can even drill down to the assignment level and see how their performance on each specific assessment impacted their overall GPA. According to Ms. Jadin, you often see students running around the school with their chromebooks open, talking to different teachers about grades that they just saw pop up on their portal. Ms. Jadin also regularly cross references students’ MAP scores and GPAs in the corresponding subjects, and teachers use that data to have discussions with kids about the correlation. As well, Ms. Jadin publicizes the average GPAs for well-known colleges and they constantly reference these stats.

“If we can get our kids this focused on their GPAs in 6th grade, what’s it going to be like in high school? It’s our goal to increase their awareness early.” – Ms. Jadin

Milwaukee Excellence Charter School hasn’t even wrapped up their second year and they’re already seeing the fruits of their labor. As a direct result of the disciplined process they use in enacting school-wide initiatives, Ms. Jadin and her team were able to increase their 6th grade GPA from 2.05 to 2.36 and their 7th grade GPA from 1.65 to 2.48, as well as bringing the percentage of students scoring above 50% on their MAP assessment from 20% to over 50%. What’s the common theme for all of these innovative ideas? Smart use of data. Stay tuned for next month’s blog to learn other ways that Ms. Jadin and the Milwaukee Excellence team are taking data-driven learning to the next level.

Hanna Jadin, Founding Dean of Students, Milwaukee Excellence Charter School


Eve Ackil

Marketing Coordinator at Schoolrunner

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