The brightest and the best

In 2003, if you had asked me where I would be in five years, I wouldn’t have had the most articulate response. As a student at Rufus King High School, we were told daily that we were among the “brightest and the best,” capable of accomplishing anything. Cliché? Yes. Necessary? Absolutely.

I attended one of the nation’s best public high schools. But local media often portray the Milwaukee Public Schools negatively by highlighting tensions within the district instead of celebrating its students’ many accomplishments.

Another Rufus King graduate published a great op-ed piece about this very subject. But, if the media were to deliver more positive stories on Milwaukee Public Schools, what would it focus on? After years of reflecting on my public school experience, I can offer some advice.

First, although the Milwaukee Public Schools are imperfect, so too is the production of knowledge. In general, high school is a time for critical self-reflection, but for MPS students, it represents much more.

High school is where you first become part of an intellectual community that shapes your thoughts, beliefs and actions. With the support of dedicated teachers, you are pushed to think actively about your interests – academic and otherwise – and become secure in cogently defending your opinions.
Coursework in the Milwaukee Public Schools is demanding and requires a balance of educational, professional, familial and social responsibilities that is not required in other school districts. Indeed, such skills are immensely valuable for higher education and beyond.

Second, the district’s teachers deserve credit, and not just for imparting knowledge on their students. Even in the face of drastic cuts to MPS, teachers have remained diligent in helping students maximize their potential outside of the classroom. Staying long past their required hours, teachers lead dozens of extracurricular activities that give students a chance to cultivate the skills required for higher learning.

Rufus King’s athletics program is one of the best in the state, touting an unbelievable degree of teamwork as both teams reached the state finals this year. The debate and forensics team has earned multiple national and state championships as the students develop the confidence to present and defend original arguments.

The list of students’ extracurricular accomplishments is infinite, but the real success stories are the teachers who give up their days, nights, and weekends so that their students may have these formative experiences and acquire the skills that will serve them for the rest of their lives.

Finally, and most importantly, do not discount MPS students. While we come from diverse backgrounds, our school experiences unite us in our life course. Competition is friendly, we assist one another to achieve as much as possible, and we relish one another’s successes. A fundamental life skill at school and in the workplace, collegiality is in no short supply within the MPS hallways.

So, what should stand out when we think about the Milwaukee Public Schools? Above all, it is the district’s strength in diversity and its nurturing of the brightest and the best minds. Now that sounds like a headline to me.

This commentary is published on the occasion of MPS Children’s Week. To learn more, visit

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