RTP: Transforming Lives, Transforming Communities
Kourtney Bauswell Vang, Founding Principal, Rocketship Transformation Prep
At a Parent Leader meeting back in May, the Founding Families of Rocketship’s new Milwaukee campus came together to brainstorm ideas for their new school’s name and fifth core value. The room was buzzing with excitement as parents and students discussed why and how they all came about to take a chance on a this new school called “Rocketship”. Families shared their vision for their future Rocketeers, dreams for their community, and hope for their new school. From that day, two ideas stood out amongst the rest: transformation and innovation.
From this, our families voted to name their school Rocketship Transformation Prep. As one founding parent said about the new name, “I just believe our community deserves a positive change and a new approach to educating our children. The values, culture, and achievements of Rocketship will lead to that transformation.” Each Rocketship school is built upon five core values, and four of these – respect, responsibility, empathy and persistence – are shared among all of our schools. The fifth value is chosen by our school community. Rocketship Transformation Prep’s school community chose “innovation” as our fifth core value.
Not only did families on Milwaukee’s northside want to see a transformation in their community and the quality of education that was being provided, they wanted to see these changes happen through the lens of innovation. They wanted us to think differently and break the status quo.
To add a little context, Milwaukee has a lot of positive things to offer. We have a beautiful lakefront, a great foodie scene, several pro sports teams, and summer festivals galore! But Milwaukee also has two of the worst claims to fame: it is not only America’s most racially segregated city (with a predominantly African-American northside, Latino southside, and white Eastside), but it’s also home to the nation’s largest race-based achievement gap. With the majority of schools within two miles of Rocketship Transformation Prep having reading proficiency rates in the single digits, it’s clear that what is happening in the majority of schools in our city is not working.
And already, even in the first few days of our school year, our families and Rocketeers have shared that our school feels different. This summer, our teachers completed over 60% of their home visits before the year even started. In our first week, families were already posting in our Facebook group that their kids “love their new school” and they “can’t stop talking about their teachers and classmates”. By day four, students in class were, without prompting, “sending love” to one another through wiggling their fingers, high-fiving, or hugging new friends goodbye at dismissal. At our first parent coffee, families couldn’t wait to share how much they already love their students’ teachers and wanted to know how soon they could start volunteering in the building.
But we’re not doing it alone. Rocketship Transformation Prep is housed this year in the Silver Spring Neighborhood Center (SSNC). Our Rocketeers will get additional services from SSNC – such as mental health counseling, after school activities, extra sports teams, and food pantry access – that will make it easier for Rocketeers to focus on their learning. RTP is also partnering with Carmen Northwest to give our students access to high-quality middle and high school options in their northside community. These partnerships will continue even after we move into our permanent home down the block and will give our Rocketeers a further boost to closing the achievement gap.
Proving that it is possible to provide students and families with a great educational option on the northside of Milwaukee will not be an easy task. We know we have hard work ahead of us. Many schools have tried and failed to make a dent in Milwaukee’s achievement gap. But without struggle, there is no progress—and I believe RTP and our Rocketeers will live out our vision and transform our community to close Milwaukee’s achievement gap. We can no longer live with the status quo—we must be ready to do the work to transform lives and communities through innovation, tenacity, and always trying new approaches.
Learn more about our Milwaukee schools here.
Kourtney Bauswell Vang joins Rocketship after five years as an administrator at Milwaukee Collegiate Academy (MCA), a charter high school also on Milwaukee’s Northside. While at MCA, Kourtney worked closely with teachers, students, and families to create a school curriculum and culture that would help more of MCA’s graduates get ‘to and through college’. As part of this work, Kourtney helped oversee the implementation of Summit Learning, an entirely new project-based, blended learning instructional model and curriculum for MCA students and teachers. Prior to her work at MCA, Kourtney was a social studies teacher and instructional coach at the Hmong American Peace Academy (another Northside charter school) and a 2010 Teach For America corps member. Kourtney is humbled and overjoyed that she can continue her work serving families on the northside of Milwaukee in her new role at Rocketship. Graduating from Purdue and Marquette University, Kourtney also holds an MBA from the Milwaukee School of Engineering as a Woodrow Wilson Fellow.
Published on September 10, 2018