Teacher heeds the call of another school

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel | Crocker Stephenson

Paul Berger thinks of his life as a journey. And as his journey approached its 50th anniversary, he seemed to be on the right road, headed in the right direction.

Paul is a teacher, as is his wife, Rebecca. Their three children are grown. He and Rebecca live in Pewaukee, seven miles from University Lake School, a posh prep school known for its academic excellence.

The school has a beautiful 180-acre campus. It has a 9:1 student-to-teacher ratio. Its students are drawn from families affluent enough to absorb the $10,000 in tuition for kindergarten, almost $14,000 for high school. The college acceptance rate for University Lake School graduates is 100%

“I could have finished my teaching career there,” Berger said.

Berger had taught middle school English and social studies at the school for 13 years. In August 2006, his 50th birthday just months away, he resigned.

• Hope Middle School is 28 miles from Paul’s home.

Founded in 2005, it is located, for now, above the YMCA’s Holton Youth Center in Milwaukee’s Harambee neighborhood.

Hope, which is affiliated with the Lutheran Church, has about 60 students. The student-to-teacher ration is 25:1. Virtually all of Hope’s students are African-American and come from families unable to pay the school’s $6,600 tuition. Most students qualify for a subsidized meal program.

Hope is a school that demands excellence. Saturday classes are held three times a month. Classes begin at 7:30 a.m., and the school remains open until 5 p.m.

Students are expected to complete their homework. They have their teachers’ cell phone numbers, and if they have a question, they are expected to call. No excuses.

Ask Hope eighth-graders what class they are in, and they will tell you “2012.”

That is the year they plan to start their freshman year of college.

Walk into a Hope classroom and ask what’s going on, and you might hear the students yell back, in unison: “This is the room that has the kids who want to learn and read more books to build a better tomorrow.”

In the fall of 2006, Paul Berger began teaching at Hope.

“I re-evaluated what I would do for the rest of my life,” Berger said. “I decided to refocus my ministry to children in a faith-based school.”

Leaving University Lake School wasn’t easy. He had, over the years, developed relationships with the faculty, students and their families. He would have stayed had he not been called elsewhere.

“I didn’t leave there,” he said. “I came here.”

University Lake School gave Berger a parting gift. It is a brass telescope, the old-fashioned kind that collapses. It is engraved:

“Paul Berger

“Teacher, Mentor, Friend”

Peer through Berger’s telescope, and what is distant is distinguished.

Contact Crocker Stephenson at (414) 224-2539 or cstephenson@journalsentinel.com