Tribune editorial board: Hamilton Early Learning Center partnerships are great for La Crosse
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Tribune editorial board: Hamilton Early Learning Center partnerships are great for La Crosse

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We all need good neighbors — especially during unsettling times.

That’s why the news was so upbeat last week about Hamilton Early Learning Center in La Crosse.

You can’t have a good neighborhood without a strong school.

And you can’t have a strong school if the neighbors don’t invest.

Thankfully, the 60-year-old elementary has some generous neighbors who also call the Powell-Poage-Hamilton neighborhood home.

Last week, Gundersen Health System announced it will contribute $1.2 million to the $6.3 million expansion and remodel of Hamilton.

The Boys & Girls Club of La Crosse also committed $1.2 million to Hamilton — home of the club’s first school site.

The city of La Crosse has awarded a $400,000 community development block grant to the school project.

And the School District of La Crosse will provide the remaining $3.5 million.

Gundersen will fund the new media center. The project also includes three new classrooms, community space and a gymnasium.

The school isn’t the only shining star in Powell-Poage-Hamilton.

The neighborhood has been reinvigorated in recent years with city, county and hospital partnerships and investment.

Some dilapidated houses have been removed. New homes now sit in their place. It’s not as simple as driving by and seeing block after block of new homes. It’s more subtle, more integrated and probably more lasting.

And there’s the influence of La Crosse Promise, which has provided tuition incentive for families who build or refurbish neighborhood housing.

The city has performed a long-needed makeover on the park in the neighborhood that today stands in honor of La Crosse native George Poage, the first African-American athlete to win a medal in the Olympic Games, winning two bronze medals in 1904.

Street lighting has been added to help make the neighborhood safer, too.

It adds up to building a stronger neighborhood.

The school is the most diverse in the district. Three in four students are categorized as economically disadvantaged, and 50 percent of the students are non-white.

“It takes partners from all pieces of the community to bring us forward and deliver on all of our missions to improve our communities. How better to do that than through our schools?” Gundersen CEO Dr. Scott Rathgaber said. “It works best when we all work together.”

Randy Nelson, who is wrapping up his successful tenure as the district’s superintendent, said of the Gundersen gift: “It’s a commitment to the neighborhood, it’s a commitment to the families, it’s a commitment to the businesses and institutions that are in that neighborhood.”

Commitment, partnership, investment.

These are critical elements for building a strong school and a strong neighborhood.

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