St. Marcus School gets $2.5 million boost for its Harambee campus buildout

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Milwaukee philanthropists Keith Mardak and Mary Vandenberg have issued a $2.5 million matching gift to St. Marcus Lutheran School as it continues to raise funds for its new Harambee campus.

The private, Lutheran school this fall opened its third campus, located at 110 W. Burleigh in Milwaukee, and is continuing to renovate portions of the building.

St. Marcus, which has its main campus at 2215 N. Palmer St. and its north campus at 2669 N. Richards St., seeks to raise $17 million to cover the cost of purchasing and renovating the Burleigh building. The school, which formerly housed Harambee Community School, has 26 classrooms, special education spaces, a library, science and technology labs, a cafeteria and kitchen and full-size gym.

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Below are renderings of what it will look like when renovations are completed.

To date, the school has raised $7 million, superintendent Henry Tyson announced.

Mardak and Vandenberg, former executives of Milwaukee-based sheet music publisher Hal Leonard Corp., have pledged to match donations dollar-for-dollar up to $2.5 million. The couple also supports numerous other educational initiatives in the city, including the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center and Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee. They were recently recognized with BizTimes Media’s Nonprofit Excellence Lifetime Achievement Award.

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St. Marcus currently has roughly 150 students enrolled at its Harambee campus, with plans to grow enrollment to 600.

Its main campus, which serves students in K4-8th grade, has 600 students, and the north campus has 350. St. Marcus’s main campus dates back nearly 150 years and was founded by a group of German Lutherans. As demand grew with its participation in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, the school opened the second, north side location in 2014.

Today, 75% of its students participate in the choice program and 76% are economically disadvantaged. On the newly released state report cards, St. Marcus “significantly exceeds expectations” with five stars, according to Wisconsin Department of Instruction’s five-star scoring system.

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In light of persistent achievement and opportunity gaps between white students and students of color, high-quality education is one of the keys to addressing other societal challenges, Tyson said.

“The sad reality is that we read in the paper and see on the television stories of homicides, of incredible rates of incarceration, of violence and of reckless driving,” Tyson said during a virtual gala event. “All of those issues fundamentally stem from our failure as a community to educate our children. It’s time for us as adults to stand up and say ‘enough,’ to continue to open buildings like this where children can receive an education that will equip them for lives of purpose, where they can become successful contributors to the social fabric of this city. That’s what this campus will do.”

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