In the early 1960s, a few Milwaukee-area families were worried -- It seemed to them that the "progressive" education sweeping the country was adrift, hesitant to challenge the intellect, and increasingly afraid to enunciate traditional values. This determined group of like-minded parents gathered to discuss the intriguing possibility of starting their own school. In his autobiography, Heart of Freedom
, William L. Law summarized the thinking of this group when he wrote, “Disturbed by what we saw, but more importantly, inspired by what we could be, we began to answer the questions: Why a private school? Why this private school?”
In 1962, after a few narrow escapes from the powers-that–be who were not necessarily enthusiastic about a private, independent school in Brookfield, Mr. Law, joined by kindred spirits Mr. Walter Davis, Mr. Bob Baird, and Mr. William (Bill) Smeeth, founded the Academy of Basic Education (A.B.E.). They purchased a ranch-style home on a 12-acre hilltop site in Brookfield and set about converting the house into a school.
A.B.E. would use traditional methods and texts; students would be encouraged to be free, responsible, individuals; they would be guided by the moral underpinnings of the Judeo-Christian ethic; students would be instilled with a reverence for the ideals embodied in the Five Stars--Intellect, Heritage, Individuality, Truth and Character; students would be taught by teachers who both loved children and appreciated the freedoms of Western Civilization; and parents would always be respected as the primary educator in the Academy triangle.
Mr. Smeeth, while not a trained educator in the traditional sense, was named Headmaster. Like his fellow Founders, Mr. Smeeth was a man of great courage and conviction, the perfect person for the job. Mr. Smeeth hired six talented teachers, all of whom were hired for what Founder Walter Davis referred to as their “academic substance,” and they, along with 33 student pioneers, assembled atop the hill on September 10, 1962, for the first outdoors assembly. They surrounded the flagpole, said the Pledge of Allegiance, and proudly recited the New York Regents prayer, at the time the very prayer at the heart of the debate over prayer in public schools. There would be no such debate at A.B.E.
There was some trepidation on the part of the Founders when there were only 33 students that first year. However, in its second year the Academy opened with 65 students, eight teachers, a new 9th grade class, and a waiting list! At the time, Mr. Davis noted, “we were starting to make the right kind of waves,” and with 880 students on campus in 2017, it would seem Mr. Davis was omniscient in his observation.
Following in the tradition established by Mr. Smeeth, the Academy has been blessed to have great leaders. Dr. Nyle Kardatzke was named Head of School in September 1978. He nurtured the Academy's development for 15 years and instituted the school’s name change to Brookfield Academy.
Long-time Brookfield Academy teacher and coach Robert Solsrud was named Head of School in 1993. During his tenure, Dr. Solsrud oversaw the purchase of 100 acres of land across the street, the building of a new Upper School (Patriots Hall), the creation of a beautiful athletic complex, and a doubling in enrollment.
In 2017, Sharon Koenings was appointed Head of School. Over her 40 years as a BA teacher, administrator, and national recognized college counselor, she has consistently demonstrated her commitment, dedication, and support for the school’s mission and vision, as well as to the countless number of students who have benefitted from her guidance.
In 1981, Mr. Law wrote, “We wanted our students to graduate as concerned and caring individuals, self-sovereign in their individuality, understanding their rights and their obligations. They would be armed with the mechanics, yes, but more important, they would have understanding and purpose. The Academy student learns to adapt to lift, to pursue a career, to ‘make a living,’ but if that is all he learns, we have failed. If the Academy has been a success and the dream of the Founders a reality, he graduates with firm moral principles and with an understanding and appreciation for his culture and a sense of responsibility recognizing each person’s right to his life, his liberty, and his property.”
Always intent on realizing the dream of the Founders, the Board of Directors, administration, faculty and staff, students, parents, alumni, alumni parents, and grandparents share an unwavering commitment to the ideals, values, and beliefs that have remained at the foundation of Brookfield Academy for 55 years.