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When Seeds of Health Executive Director Marcia Spector created Tenor High School with its innovative model for high school education, little did she know about the extent of the impact it would have on the lives of its graduates. This model, whereby students graduate from high school in three years and spend their fourth year taking college courses at Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC) free of charge, could possibly be Milwaukee’s best kept secret in education. With the original flagship Tenor High School located in the heart of the business community on Jackson Street, that model of education is about to get bigger this fall as Tenor opens its second school, in the former Seeds of Health MC2 school building on 1st Street.
Tenor High School is a Wisconsin School of Recognition that offers students the ability to graduate from high school in three years and spend their fourth year earning college credits or an MATC certificate… for free. Tenor’s three years of high school combined with one year at MATC has produced numerous success stories, with 90% of its graduates going on to post-secondary education or certification programs after graduation. A big reason behind the success of the school and its students can be linked to its leader, Principal Tyson Tlachac. Tlachac started his career at Tenor as a science teacher, then became dean, and ultimately became its principal, a position he’s held for eight years. Tlachac is 100% invested in the success of Tenor and each one of its students. Tlachac explains, “Tenor is all I know for schools, and all I want to know. It’s the mission behind Tenor that makes me want to stay.”
Tenor’s mission is simple, yet groundbreaking: “to prepare Milwaukee students for successful entry to post-secondary education and career opportunities through the dual completion of a high school diploma and a Milwaukee Area Technical College program certificate or technical diploma, and/or credits in a post-secondary degree program.”
Tlachac adds, “We’re giving students an opportunity that they may not have had, to attend post-secondary schooling. The students come to me and say they never thought that they could be successful in college until they get there. They become successful with our help, during their senior year. We push them to achieve things they may not have thought they could achieve.”
He continued that many students feel they need to be 4.0 students in order to participate in the Tenor education and then MATC. Tlachac disagrees, “When students hear our mission of going to college early, they think they have to be a 4.0 student or the best. That’s not the case. The ideal Tenor student is a student who is willing to learn, willing to improve, and willing to work hard. I can give you countless examples of students who started high school wondering if they could make it at MATC. But, when they got to MATC, these students excelled. Students find that their hard work and preparation during the three years of Tenor really prepare them to do well at MATC, especially when they find their niche in a trade or program.”
Students perform at Tenor and MATC thanks to the high expectations outlined by Tlachac and all of the dedicated teachers and staff. Even before students begin their freshmen year, during their pre-high school Summer Institute, they understand the plan and its expectations – three years of high school and the fourth year at MATC. Getting to MATC is part of the conversation throughout the students’ three years of high school. The important thing for all students, and the message they hear from the beginning of high school, is that they’re expected to work hard and always keep the end goal, MATC, in sight.
According to Tlachac, students do understand the expectations and accordingly work hard at Tenor, largely due to the support of the entire staff. Tlachac explains, “I’m a small pawn in this game; much credit goes to the school counselor Carol Pook, the teachers, and the staff. I’m kind of like a football coach – I make sure everything is running smoothly. My goal on a daily basis is to ensure that the teachers only have to worry about teaching. They shouldn’t have to worry about politics or finances – that’s for me to worry about.”
Tlachac credits the teachers for creating a culture that students want to be part of. Poor attendance isn’t an issue at Tenor – kids just come every day because they feel like they belong at Tenor and feel that the staff truly cares about them. Perhaps this caring atmosphere is a reason behind the fact there are very few discipline problems at Tenor. Tlachac is “firm but fair” in his discipline and focuses on setting clear and consistent expectations for education and behavior, while also forming relationships with students and nurturing a feeling of mutual trust. He explains, “Building relationships with students helps prevent problems and helps if there are issues. If problems do arise, I invite students into my office to talk about the problems. They know my expectations and that I value honesty above all. They know I’ll work with them to understand the problem. My goal is always to educate the student and have him or her learn and grow from any given situation.”
It’s this kind of connection that keeps students engaged with Tlachac and the teachers throughout their three years of high school at Tenor and their fourth year at MATC. During their fourth year, students attend classes at MATC, but are required to come back to Tenor for a weekly seminar meeting with their counselor, Carol Pook. During those meetings, students receive support with their transition to MATC, classwork, and as the year progresses, college applications and financial aid. Many students come back to Tenor daily, as they have a dedicated space to work. They also continue to participate in Tenor sports and clubs and keep their ties with Tlachac and teachers strong, often stopping in during a class, just to say hello.
Enrollment is now open for students interested in a Tenor education. This is a great opportunity for students to receive a quality, personalized education thanks to small class sizes and a nurturing, yet disciplined atmosphere. This is especially helpful in our current reality, where in-person and online education are both possible learning scenarios for the fall. Luckily, Seeds of Health has a great track record with both learning modalities. In March of 2020, Seeds of Health schools were prepared to hit the ground running with online education when schools closed due to COVID -19. Currently, administration and staff are preparing for a variety of instructional scenarios. Regardless of what this fall brings, the focus at Tenor High School is to prepare students for graduation and success after leaving Tenor. Statistics back this up, with its students boasting a 100% graduation rate and 90 % of students going on to post-secondary institutions and training programs.
Principal Tyson Tlachac will continue to lead students and staff as school begins again in September. He is happy to be supporting the smooth opening of a second Tenor this fall, located in the former Seeds of Health MC2 School on 1st Street. Chartered by the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee, Tenor High School is currently the only school of its kind, now with two locations at 840 N Jackson Street and 131 South 1st Street.
For enrollment details contact Veronica Ramirez of Seeds of Health at 414.380.9179.
About Seeds of Health, Inc.
Founded in 1983, Seeds of Health, Inc. is the only K4-12 charter school agency in the state of Wisconsin serving approximately 1,300 students in four high schools and a K4-8 elementary program. The five individual and unique education programs serve a broad range of student needs – from at-risk to the college bound. Seeds of Health is Milwaukee’s innovative “home grown” answer to imaginative, collaborative and cutting-edge education options, with the vision to positively impact the growth and development of urban children. For more information, please visit www.seedsofhealth.org.