ON-Lion Letter
Students at the new Milwaukee Excellence Charter School begin every academic day with breakfast and 30 minutes of silent reading, followed by an all-school meeting led by founder and executive director, Maurice Thomas.  At that gathering, Thomas gives a motivational talk focused on the school’s core values of focus, integrity, respect, self-determination, and teamwork.  On Tuesdays, however, he delivers this message in the form of an original hip-hop song, to the delight of his students.  A video of his first performance has gone viral, receiving over 52,000 hits on Facebook.  

That kind of fresh, joyful approach to engaging students and fostering their passion for learning characterizes the overall mission of Milwaukee Excellence (ME), which opened its doors this autumn.  ME is a non-instrumentality charter school that educates 6th-12th graders by emphasizing rigorous, college-preparatory academics; character development; intellectual curiosity; and service.  Its current student body includes 92 sixth-graders from some of Milwaukee’s most economically challenged neighborhoods.  Thomas plans to expand the school slowly, adding one new grade each year until it reaches its full capacity of 960 students in 2023.
ME’s long-term goals including closing learning gaps in math and literacy, offering accelerated learning for gifted children, and achieving a 100% college-acceptance rate for all of its students.  As Thomas has explained, ME is built on a “no excuses” philosophy, which means “the adults in the building never waver on what’s possible for students.  It’s about a mind-set that our students can and will succeed.”

In order to achieve that success, ME’s pedagogical structure includes a longer school day with double reading and math instruction, an extended school year, and strict disciplinary standards based on high expectations.  Teachers rotate from one classroom to the next rather than students in order to ensure maximum time for instruction, all children learn how to code by studying computer science, and every day provides enrichment opportunities including the performing arts, fitness, Spanish, and chess.   

The school is the brainchild of Thomas, who is a graduate of Milwaukee’s Rufus King International High School and UW-Madison.  After completing his degree, Thomas joined Teach For America (TFA), receiving the national TFA Teacher of the Year Award in 2010 and eventually serving as the executive director for TFA-Milwaukee.  After completing a Building Excellent Schools Fellowship that allowed him to observe high-performing charter schools around the country, he petitioned the MPS Board of Directors to receive a charter for Milwaukee Excellence.  It was approved last December.   

According to its charter proposal submitted to the MPS School Board in 2015, ME “will provide a daily school experience that celebrates our students’ cultures and respects them as individuals. We will create an environment where it is safe for students to make mistakes. We believe students will rise to the expectations we set, and we hold ourselves accountable to giving them all the supports that they need to meet those expectations.”

A virtual tour of the school, narrated by Thomas, is available online.

The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation in Milwaukee supports the Milwaukee Excellence Charter School.

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