Henry Tyson charted unlikely path to Milwaukee education debates

Bill Glauber

“I’m a conformist,” said Henry Tyson, superintendent of St. Marcus Lutheran School. “I like rules and I like order.”

To hear that Tyson considers himself a conformist is a surprise, given his background and his mission.

How this British-born educator came to Milwaukee is the stuff of chance, circumstance and an intense personal faith to live, work and educate children in the inner city.

Tyson’s ability to shake up the education establishment in recent years has made him a target of critics, who see him as an interloper.

Even those who are not intimately involved in the hothouse of education politics in Milwaukee may have heard of Tyson’s so-far unsuccessful quest to buy empty Milwaukee Public Schools buildings and expand the private voucher school he oversees.

On Friday, St. Marcus announced a deal to lease space for an early childhood education center at a non-MPS building, the Aurora Weier Educational Center building at 2669 N. Richards St.

The move marks a truce, of sorts. Yet the fight likely isn’t over. For his part, Tyson has been stung by criticism.

“What absolutely shocked me is that I became the nemesis of public education,” Tyson said. “Like I have always articulated, we will not move this city forward enough, or at least significantly, until the fighting stops.”

Last week, the fall term began at St. Marcus’ main campus at 2215 N. Palmer St. The sparkling facility buzzed with the energy of 730 students in grades K-8 and more than 100 staff. Nearly all of those students — 93% — attend on a taxpayer-paid voucher. The student body is 89% African-American, Tyson said.

Listen to an interview with Henry Tyson.