Madison Magazine

Kromrey Middle School: Learning and Loving it

No. 2 for 2015's Best Places to Work in the 101+ employee category

There's no conceivable way the new $49 million, 265,000-square-foot Kromrey Middle School building doesn't positively impact employee satisfaction. In a real sense, Kromrey has the second highest number of employees of any other Madison-area company that took this survey. Its leaders are tasked with creating a successful work environment not only for 155 staff members, but also for nearly 1,110 students in grades five to eight who spend thirty-five-plus hours a week on-site. Now with an abundance of natural light, collaborative classroom spaces and windows overlooking the Pheasant Branch Conservancy, Kromrey feels like a workplace as "Epic" as any other.

"I think you would have gotten the same results a year ago when we were sitting in what we call ‘Vintage Kromrey,'" says principal Steve Soeteber of the old building, an overcrowded, dark and dingy "mold factory" with no air conditioning and metal walls that prohibited technological upgrades. "When we made the shift to new Kromrey, we wanted to leave behind all those issues, but take with us the sense of community and culture and climate that we have here."

It's a culture based on transparency, teacher buy-in and reinforcement of positive behaviors. The four-year-old Positive Behaviors Interventions and Supports program has resulted in the suspension rate dropping sixty to seventy percent. Staff members are empowered to create solutions where they see a need. For example, school counselor Fred Bartman built a mentoring program that pairs volunteer teachers with students from all grade levels who are struggling academically. The program concentrates on students of color in an effort to help address the district's racial achievement gap. Equity itself is a targeted core value, headed up by Percy Brown, director of equity and student achievement.

"We laugh a lot here, we work well together and we all have a common goal to run a good school and make sure the kids are happy and learning," says Sherrie Prest, student services assistant. Administrative assistant Laura Ballweg adds, "Communication is very strong here. Staff are not afraid to come to this office and say, ‘I have a question,' or ‘How does this work?'"

And with about twenty-one percent of students on free or reduced lunch, staffers feel grateful the community—seventy-one percent of whom don't have kids in school—voted to allocate their resources this way.

"This doesn't happen unless people are happy working here, the kids go home and have good things to say and the community has good things to say," says associate principal Bill Deno. "From the people making food to driving buses to cutting weeds to working one-to-one with kids, it's hard work and it's emotional—but to see these results means a lot."

THE TAKEAWAY: Ensuring staff members feel empowered to make decisions goes a long way. 

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