What Makes St. Marcus Great


This story first appeared on www.rightwisconsin.com.  

In light of the recent fubar with MPS selling the Malcolm X school campus to a developer for $2.something million and then agreeing to rent it back at $1 million a year, I just wanted to let you know what the commotion is all about.  St. Marcus should have been allowed to buy that school and educate over 900 students who are currently held hostage by the Milwaukee Public Schools.  Here’s a story I did last month following a speech by St. Marcus’ Superintendent Henry Tyson. 

As shared in previous posts, St. Marcus School in Milwaukee is an exceptional Milwaukee Parental Choice school. It regularly scores higher than MPS and other choice or voucher schools on statewide achievement tests and a majority of its students graduate from high school in four years and move onto higher education.

But on Thursday, St. Marcus Superintendent Henry Tyson discussed what exactly makes his school great and why more quality educational seats are needed in our nations urban centers. He also expanded on St. Marcus’ battle with the Milwaukee Public School Board over the purchase of the vacant Malcolm X Academy.

Tyson spoke to an audience at Marquette University as part of the On the Issues series hosted by journalist Mike Gousha.

Tyson didn’t mince words about the focus of the school – Jesus.

“We are mission driven to teach these children that they are children of God through grace alone,” he said. “And that kind of message is reflected in the classroom. When they know they are children of God, they learn they have value. And when they know they personally have value, they start to value others.”

With that mindset, Tyson said students are ready to move from being defensive and aggressive to an attitude of love and respect, which translates into the ability to learn.

While St. Marcus is unapologetically Christian and follows the teachings of the Milwaukee-based Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, Tyson said there is another focus in the school – no excuses for failure.

“We expect all our students to succeed and to live up to and beyond their potential,” Tyson said. “And we measure that by having all 8th grade graduates ready to excel in high school and graduating within the prescribed four years.”

After tracking graduates for eight years, St. Marcus alumni average a 91 percent graduation rate from high school in four years and another 6 percent graduate from either a GED program or alternative high school. MPS currently has an graduation rate of 62 percent and the state graduates 87 percent of its high school students in four years.

Many school choice naysayers will claim achievement in choice schools and behavior problems are skewed because they don’t have to take special needs students or those students from the worst home situations.

However, six percent, or 50 of St. Marcus’ students are considered special needs with educational or physical disabilities. In addition, 94 percent of students are African-American or Hispanic and are from the most impoverished census tracts in the City of Milwaukee.

To deal with students that come from troubled homes, St. Marcus has instituted some new ideas for the school day. First, the school day is longer, running from 8 a.m. to 4:20 p.m. Second, if a student has a grade point average below 2.0, they have to stay in class until 5 p.m. And for some, with working parents, they stay at school until 9 p.m. enjoying a meal and tutoring until it is time to go home and sleep.

Additionally, St. Marcus holds classes on Saturday mornings and conducts a summer program for four weeks. All this to instill a love of education in both the students and parents and to keep children in school and away from trouble.

The cost for all this? According to Tyson, St. Marcus educates a child for approximately $7,800 per year – including Saturdays, summers and evening programming.

The state’s school voucher program pays $6,500 per student, leaving $1,300 per student to be made up by the school. Not a problem, said Tyson, who credits not-for-profit foundations, community members and the congregation with making up the difference.

On the other side of the ledger, MPS proposed to spend over $14,200 per student during the 2011-12 school year and the state average is $11,774 per student during the same time period.

Tyson also isn’t afraid to put up his students achievement rates on standardized tests, such as the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Exam (WCKE). But he wants people to make sure they are comparing apples to apples when interpreting the results.

He spoke of the breathless reporting by the local newspaper which stated MPS students scored higher than choice schools on the most recent WKCEs. However, the paper compared all MPS students scores (including middle and upper class students) with the scores of only voucher-using students (those below the income standard at the time) at choice and charter schools. This unfairly skewed the results according to Tyson.

Tyson also addressed a recent article written by MTEA President Bob Peterson asking why taxpayers should pay for an education that teaches religious values that promote homophobia and women-hating. This was Peterson’s description of the doctrine and beliefs of the Wisconsin Synod.

Tyson deflected on the scriptural questions, urging Peterson to sit down with St. Marcus’ pastors to answer those; but he described Peterson’s tactic as missing the point.

“According to the story on the BBC (still Tyson’s preferred choice of news, as he is a Brit) there are more blacks in jail here (on average) than elsewhere in the country,” he said. “This is an education issue, where without an quality education they will either end up dead, in jail or unemployed.”

“There is a raging fire in this city and there are many little fire trucks that are trying to put it out with a quality educational product – St. Marcus, Milwaukee College Prep, Bruce Guadalupe – and Peterson is pushing a small distraction instead of paying attention to the fire.”

“I’m focused on education and I think Mr. Peterson should be too,” Tyson added.

In regards to St. Marcus’ efforts to purchase Malcolm X Academy from MPS, Tyson didn’t mince words – he thinks the “plan” to turn the vacant building into a community center is a smokescreen.

They (MPS) is more concerned with their market share than with providing the quality educational seats for the children of this city,” he said.


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