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More Milwaukee area high school students will have the opportunity to go to college, thanks to the forward thinking and innovative solutions of Seeds of Health Executive Director Marcia Spector. Tenor High School, a program of Seeds of Health will expand its program to 918-922 N Vel Phillips Avenue, the former home of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel which Seeds of Health purchased from J. Jeffers & Co.
Whether it’s preparing the family of Seeds of Health schools (comprised of Seeds of Health Elementary, Grandview High School, Veritas High School, and Tenor High School) for online learning a month before last March’s shutdown, or having a tight safety plan in place for the students’ return to the classroom, Spector always has her eye on the future, and she won’t stop until her need-based plans are put into action. This time, Spector is focusing on giving more Milwaukee area high school students the chance to get a head start on their future when Seeds of Health expands the Tenor High School program.
New Use for an Old Building
David Hase, Seeds of Health Board President, sees this “as the latest progressive-minded move that will give new life to one of Milwaukee’s most treasured and historic buildings as Seeds of Health expands Tenor High School in the former Milwaukee Journal Sentinel building for the 2021/2022 school year.”
Seeds of Health Executive Board Member Jane Trenchard Backes says, “We are thrilled to announce the expansion of Tenor High School and the opportunity to serve more children in Milwaukee. As a top-performing Charter High School, Tenor High School/Seeds of Health is dedicated to providing excellence in education and preparing our students for high-demand careers within our region.”
Tenor High School opened 15 years ago when Spector was approached by Dennis Conta with the idea to create a school that would help urban children prepare for successful futures. Spector explains, “It’s the only high school program of its kind in the state of Wisconsin. Nobody else has a program like this dual certification school. Tenor students take three years of high school classes and then go to Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC) their 4th year, free of charge. Upon graduation, students can leave with their high school diploma, an MATC certificate in an area of trade, continue their studies at MATC and earn an associate degree, or take the credits earned at MATC to a 4-year university.” Whatever option students take, they’re on the road to be successful and workforce ready.
According to Tenor High School Principal Tyson Tlachac, “Since Tenor’s beginning, over 500 students have participated in this unique program, experiencing their 4th year at MATC. That has led to students continuing at MATC to receive a certificate, working toward an associate degree, entering a 4-year degree program, or entering the workforce directly after high school.”
Tenor High School: the “Magical School”
Tenor’s model is so successful that it’s referred to as a “Magical School” because it makes post-secondary education and solid employment possible for students who may have not considered it before. During their time at Tenor, students are able to touch and feel college. They’re exposed to potential careers and possibilities. It’s magical because it opens students up to what they can do and shows them that there’s a world outside of their current circumstances. And while the school is indeed magical, the positive results are achieved through detailed planning, hard work, and dedication of both students and staff.
The Search for the Perfect Location
Brian Parrish, President and CEO of PARADIGM Real Estate, is very familiar with Spector’s vision for Tenor and the expansion of the Tenor High School program has been his primary focus for the past 5 years. Parrish said that finding a building that is both physically and economically suitable for a school conversion was challenging.
The goal was to find a space that would allow Tenor to continue to grow and attract more students well into the future. As Spector and Parrish searched for the new school, they had a list of specific “must haves” that would have the potential to accommodate over 500 students over the next four years.
First, the building had to be close to MATC, as proximity to its partner school allows students to truly feel part of the higher education community. Second, the building needed to be in a visible downtown Milwaukee location close to Tenor on Jackson. In addition, a central location near a bus line was necessary to attract Tenor students from both Milwaukee’s north and south side neighborhoods. Finally, there had to be enough space to meet the needs of Tenor’s solid three-year education. Tenor is a Project Lead the Way School, offering many opportunities for its students such as its extensive fabrication lab.
When Marcia Spector toured the former Milwaukee Journal Sentinel buildings at 918-922 N Phillips Avenue, she knew she had hit the jackpot. The buildings are just two blocks from MATC and adjacent to the proposed location for MATC dorms. The location near FISERV Forum and across the street from the UWM Panthers Arena puts students in the heart of a thriving area where Tenor will be perfectly positioned to form partnerships with area businesses and introduce students to the possibilities that Milwaukee offers. The opportunity to transform this building and expand its education program underscores Tenor’s dedication to the ongoing revitalization of Milwaukee’s urban community.
An Ideal Downtown Location and a Practical Building Layout
The building will feature adequate space that will allow for classrooms that can be rearranged depending on class size and use. Other features include interactive spaces and alcoves, a multi-purpose first floor cafeteria, special education room, and office spaces for admin and meetings. In addition, the environment will meet all Milwaukee Health Department and Centers for Disease Control (CDC) health and safety requirements.
The entrance to the building features a plaque highlighting one of its most famous occupants, Christopher Latham Sholes, the chief inventor of the first practical typewriter. Sholes served as editor of the Milwaukee Sentinel from 1861 to 1865, and greatly impacted the evolution of journalism. Stories such as his allow Tenor to continue the narrative of a site so deeply rooted in the making of Milwaukee.
According to Parrish, “The site structure was historically two individual structures. The north structure was a multi-tenant factory building. The site was occupied and used by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel as offices and printing, as well as various office and manufacturing tenants, including machine shops, a clothing manufacturing facility, an electric sign shop and refrigeration machinery.” The rich history of tenants will serve as inspiration to students, supporting Tenor’s message that their futures hold countless opportunities.
Senior Vice President of the MMAC Steve Bass agrees stating, “The MMAC applauds Seeds of Health’s leading role in educating urban youth. Seeds of Health’s decision to expand Tenor High School on the dynamic Vel R. Phillips Avenue in the former Milwaukee Journal Sentinel building signifies their commitment to Milwaukee and the future of the next generation. Tenor’s unique program graduates students with a year of college from MATC, prepared for the workforce or continuing their education.”
The Secret Behind Tenor’s Success
Why has Tenor been so successful for 15 years? Perhaps it’s Tenor’s commitment to students and the fact that it has a rock-solid mission. According to Marcia Spector, the mission has always, and will always, remain the same: The Tenor High School mission is 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. Backed by this mission and the dedicated individuals working behind it, the future looks very bright for Tenor students.
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 three high schools with a total of four locations and a K4-8 elementary program. The individual and unique education programs at each Seeds of Health school 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. Tenor High School, a program of Seeds of Health, is a high performing charter school authorized by the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee (UWM). For more information, please visit www.seedsofhealth.org.