St. Marcus Lutheran School, Wisconsin
St. Marcus Lutheran School in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, has an ambitious goal: to be one of the best urban schools in the country. “Our teachers are deeply driven individuals who relentlessly do whatever it takes to help students,” says Superintendent Henry Tyson, pointing to the school’s “high expectations, no excuses” philosophy and extensive wraparound student supports. High-quality curriculum materials from Great Minds® are one tool to help the school achieve its goal and see all students succeed.
High-Quality Instructional Materials Provide Strong Foundation for Student Learning
- 3 campuses
- 1,200 students, K–8
- 95% African American
- 80% Low income
- 10% Special needs
The school first discovered EngageNY, now Eureka Math®, in 2013 when educators were looking for materials aligned to new standards. Kurt Stielow, main campus dean of academics for grades 5 and 6, says, “I fell in love with the EngageNY curriculum. It was a lifesaver.”
The school successfully piloted Eureka Math2® in 2021–2022 after using primarily EngageNY and Eureka Math since the 2014–2015 school year. Andrew Becker, main campus dean of academics for grades 7 and 8, says that educators welcomed the new curriculum’s wealth of assessment options, readability, and extensive teacher guidance. Stielow adds, “The pilot was great, and we adopted full implementation for our middle school (grades 5–8). Teachers love the new resources, which enhance their teaching and build off what they had already been doing with Eureka Math. Students have also enjoyed that there is more technology.”
After the school’s success using high-quality instructional materials in mathematics, St. Marcus embraced similar materials in English language arts. The school implemented Wit & Wisdom® in school year 2016–2017 in grades 5–8, in school year 2017–2018 for grades 2–4, and in school year 2020–2021 for grades K–1. Prior to this adoption, teachers were spending a lot of time piecing together their own lessons. “I’d get to school at 5 a.m. and have to figure out what I was going to teach that day,” says Becker. “We all were overwhelmed.”
With a coherent, knowledge-building curriculum in place, teachers can now focus less on finding lessons and more on implementing them well. “[The curriculum] changed me as a teacher. It’s so freeing. It’s less about what I teach, so I can work more on how I teach,” says grade 8 teacher Anna Vomhof. In addition to the curriculum’s coherence across modules and grades, Becker and Vomhof also appreciate Wit & Wisdom’s rigorous texts and focus on writing. “If you can write well, you can think well,” Vomhof says.
Administrators Encouraged by Students’ Academic Growth
Before the pandemic interrupted state testing in spring 2020, St. Marcus had made double-digit gains between 2016 and 2017 and 2018 and 2019—up 11 points in ELA and 12 points in math on the state’s Forward exam.
While their students, like many others nationwide, saw academic declines during the Covid-19 pandemic, educators are feeling optimistic about students’ learning trajectories, especially after seeing growth scores in the 2021–2022 school year. St. Marcus students are progressing in their learning more quickly than other, similar students across the state. For the 2021–2022 school year, for instance, students at St. Marcus scored in the 93rd percentile relative to growth scores in the state.
Not only are students growing academically, they are engaged in their learning. Vomhof offers two examples from her grade 8 classroom. She notes that her students enjoy the World War I-focused text All Quiet on the Western Front and are making connections between it and the present: “It’s all about how people respond to trauma, which is very real to them,” Vomhof shares. She also finds that students often initially resist Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, only to have it become their favorite text. “Everything is so chaotic, they lose it in the best way,” she says.
Supporting Educators to Support Students
Becker finds that teachers need time to work through the lessons in English language arts and mathematics before teaching them. He says, “The key is to give teachers enough time and support to succeed. This is a very difficult curriculum. Teachers need at least 40 minutes to plan each lesson.” The school has focused that support on ongoing professional learning opportunities, including classroom coaching, lesson modeling, and lesson planning support. They also focus on science of learning research to get educator buy-in on the instructional approaches in the curricula.
Educators believe the time investment in working through the materials is worth it. Stielow, also a Eureka Math seasonal associate providing professional development nationwide, says, “Teachers say they love the rigor and that the materials are written by teachers. It really pushes students and teachers.” Vomhof adds, “It’s easy to say it’s too hard, but the more I ask of my students, the more they deliver.”
With rigorous instructional materials, teachers who are supported in honing their craft, and students who are engaged with and challenged by their instruction, St. Marcus School is well positioned to continue to support all students in fulfilling their potential.
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Liz Rowoldt is an advocate for high quality instructional materials. She supports Great Minds curriculum resource reviews in IN, IL, WI, MN, ND, and SD.