How One Principal is Changing a School

Test scores are rising at 53rd Street School under the leadership of Bridgette Hood.

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Bridgette Hood, principal of 53rd Street School in Sherman Park, does not like to be in her office during the day. Instead, she engages with students in the classroom and supervises activities throughout the school.

“Kids — that’s my passion,” said Hood. “I was the kind of student to always be involved in extracurricular activities. I had other individuals who were passionate and cared about me…. Because of what I experienced, I felt like I had to give that back.”

Hood attended Milwaukee Public Schools, as did both of her children. She has worked for MPS for 27 years and became principal of 53rd Street in January 2007, when it was transitioning to a K-8 school.

“I believe that this is all meant to be,” Hood said. “God put me here for a reason. He equipped me for this type of job.”

Elizabeth Turner has been teaching at the school for 12 years. She noticed changes — both academically and structurally — when Hood took over. Turner credits them to Hood’s passion and experience.

“Her heart is in the right place,” Turner said. “I think part of the reason she is so good at what she does is because she has walked in every job within the school.”

While 53rd Street School’s standardized test scores remain well below statewide averages, they have improved markedly during Hood’s tenure as principal. In 2007, 5.2 percent of students were proficient in reading; in 2012, 12.9 percent were proficient. In 2007, 4.6 percent of the students were proficient in math; in 2012, 16.9 percent were proficient.  The rate of improvement since Hood took over compares admirably against statewide progress — the school’s reading scores increased 7.7 percent, while statewide scores rose only 1.2 percent. Math scores at 53rd Street increased 12.3 percent, compared to the statewide increase of 5 percent.

In October, the 53rd Street School was selected by the GE Foundation as one of 10 schools to receive $20.4 million in grant funds, out of 42 schools that were invited to apply. In an effort to increase student achievement, each demonstration school will receive a full-time literacy and full-time math coach, as well as more time for collaborative planning to focus on the “Common Core State Standards,” national standards voluntarily adopted by states.

“We are hoping to utilize those resources effectively and with fidelity to become a (model) for the district — and maybe even the state,” Hood said.

Her commitment to kids extends beyond the school building.

A 14-year-old girl recently pleaded with her for help after being placed in different group and foster homes. That led Hood to become a licensed foster parent for the teenager.

“I said to her, ‘The most important thing that you could ever do for me is to do well in school and be respectful to yourself and to the adults who work with you,’ ” Hood recalled. “She said, ‘If that’s all you’re asking me, I can do that.’”

Five years ago, Hood was away at a conference for two days. As she listened to a speaker, she kept thinking about her students. She began to write the 53rd Street School creed to show her students that they can take control of their destiny. The creed begins, “I am smart. I am brilliant. I can be whatever I want to be.”

“The kids recite it every single day by way of the PA system,” Hood said. “It’s not just by memory that we’re reciting this. It’s mainly that we want you to believe it.”

As both a teacher and a parent of a second-grader, Velicia Buchanan Cooper interacts with Hood on several levels. “The one thing I love is that she always puts the child first,” Buchanan Cooper said. “She looks at the child first before anything.”

Hood would agree with that assessment.

“It’s the kids who make me who I am,” she said. “It’s all about the kids.”

This story was originally published by Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service, where you can find other stories reporting on fifteen city neighborhoods in Milwaukee.

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