School views past and future in golden celebration
Theme reflects Brookfield Academy's learned approach
As Brookfield Academy prepares to honor its 50th anniversary with a Sept. 7 Founder's Day ceremony, Head of School Robert Solsrud said there is a lot of meaning to the yearlong celebration theme, "Inspired by Our Past. Focusing On Our Future."
Solsrud should know. He has been involved with the school for more than 40 years, first as a teacher and coach and then, in 1993, as its chief administrator.
"What inspires all of us about the past is the commitment from the founding families and the dedicated pioneers," Solsrud said. "They had moderate resources and they had a dream and were willing to take a risk and make a new journey in their life. They had a vision in how young people should be educated. It's how educational reform begins."
School and educator meet
Planned in 1960, the school opened in 1962. It has grown to more than 900 students in prekindergarten through grade 12 on a 117-acre campus in a college preparatory environment.
Solsrud came to the school in 1971 after a stint as a teacher and coach in Milwaukee at his alma mater, Bay View High School.
He was looking for a new, more interesting challenge, he said. It came in the form of a position notice he saw that gave him the opportunity to continue teaching biology and coaching football.
"There was just something missing," Solsrud said. "Leaving the public school system was one of the best things I ever did in my life. I did not know and I am not sure that the founders anticipated the growth that has occurred."
While the school's niche as a college prep institution resonated with area residents over the past several decades, land became available. A nearby bowling alley folded and the building was removed to become the middle school. Neighboring farmland was bought for athletic fields.
Growing a niche
"What we are doing is what many parents are looking for," Solsrud said, noting the emphasis on small class sizes and students going on to college.
Looking at the future, the school mapped out a strategic plan.
"We had a survey and focus groups, and five themes came out of that," Solsrud said, noting leadership cultivation, program, campus and facilities, internal as well as external communications and sustainability.
"Participants really wanted to preserve what we have and have those areas improve," Solsrud said. "Our focus on academics, traditions and class size were important to them, with some vision to grow. I would not expect us to grow a lot more, maybe closer to 1,000 students."
Not going anywhere
Solsrud expects to be part of the school's continued strength and moderate growth.
"I feel I have a few more years left here," he said. "We have had only three heads of school in 50 years. One of the reasons for including leadership cultivation as a strategic focus is that we need to develop leadership among younger generations. We want to give younger educators an opportunity to take on more responsibility and see if this is what they want to do. When the time comes, they can step in to take the leadership role."
For now, Solsrud said each school year still inspires him.
"Every school year, I hear people ask me if I'm ready for another year," Solsrud said. "I tell them it's not just another year. It's a new year. It's a new opportunity."
BROOKFIELD ACADEMY BY DECADE
1960s: The school opens as the Academy of Basic Education on Sept. 10, 1962 with 33 students and six teachers. By the end of the decade enrollment grows to 267.
1970s: The first senior class of 20 graduates in 1971 and the school name is changed to Brookfield Academy in 1978.
1980s: After celebrating its 20th year anniversary, the school enrollment reaches well over 400.
1990s: Enrollment grows from 450 to 611 as land and adjacent property is acquired for academics and athletics. Current Head of School Robert Solsrud take his position in 1993.
2000s: Enrollment grows from 648 to almost 800
2010-12: The school's current enrollment is 900. A strategic plan is developed to look at the school's future at its 50 anniversary year.
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