Published Online: September 10, 1997

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After hearing that Marva Collins was helping a private school get started in Milwaukee, so many parents enrolled their children that the new school has added two extra grade levels.

The Marva Collins Preparatory School of Wisconsin opened this semester, and officials there hope to duplicate the educator's Westside Preparatory School in Chicago. The 22-year-old Westside Prep's success in educating urban children has won Ms. Collins widespread attention in education circles, a feature on the CBS newsmagazine "60 Minutes," and even a television movie.

Her simple formula of high expectations mixed with a curriculum of basics has won her many fans.

"A lot of grandparents here had heard about her in the 1980s, remembered her name, and said, 'Oh! I want to send my grandchild to that school,'" said Robert Rauh, the principal of the new school.

After seeing the "60 Minutes" segment last year, a local couple, along with a retired National Basketball Association star, contributed $200,000 to help get the Milwaukee school off the ground. Ms. Collins has lent her expertise to the project, along with her name. Organizers have purchased her curriculum, and Westside Prep educators have trained the school's staff of six.

"Our goal is to be as much of a clone as possible to what she's doing in Chicago," Mr. Rauh said.

Planned originally to serve only kindergarten and 1st graders, the new school opened late last month to 84 students in grades K-3, with plans to add a grade every year until it becomes a full K-8 school. Annual tuition is $4,500, but most of the parents are getting help from Milwaukee's publicly funded voucher program or a local, privately financed scholarship program.

A tiny new private high school in Dallas is seeking to fill its own niche by catering to gay and lesbian students.

Co-founder Becky Thompson hopes the Walt Whitman Community School will be a place that homosexual students can attend comfortably without fear of harassment from their peers. In addition to a traditional curriculum, including English, science, and mathematics, the school emphasizes health and community service.

A half-dozen students enrolled this fall, including one heterosexual student who had suffered taunts at another school because his mother is a lesbian, Ms. Thompson said. "This is not about segregation," she said. "We're looking for the kids that have dropped out or given up on the system. They've tried to do their thing in the public schools and want an alternative."

Annual tuition is $7,000.

--JEFF ARCHER jarcher@epe.org

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