Episode 4: Lita Mallett of Milwaukee Excellence Charter School
The guest on this episode of Diverse Disruptors is Lita Mallet, the founding high school principal of Milwaukee Excellence Charter School. Before I share her amazing story, you might be asking why is why are we talking to a school principal. Think of a principal as an entrepreneur.
According to a blog post from the co-founder of the educational consultancy Enrollhand, there are five qualities that successful principals and entrepreneurs share. Successful entrepreneurs are agile, risk-takers, capacity builders and most importantly they have a vision. And Lita Mallett possesses all those qualities in spades, especially vision. We will get to that quality later.
And think of her school as more of a startup incubator. Instead of nurturing and growing a business, she is nurturing and growing the minds of Milwaukee students. You might remember hearing about Lita’s school back in 2017 when it went viral with an inspirational rap video which led to the students appearing on " Good Morning America."
Fast forward to 2020. In a story from the Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service, Lita announced that she plans to quadruple the number of Black students that take the AP computer science exam in Wisconsin. In 2019, only 2.2% of students who took the exam were Black which equates to only 23 students in the entire state. Wisconsin is near the bottom when it comes to Black students taking the exam and dead last in the Midwest according to a presentation by Barbara Ericson, the assistant professor in the School of Information at the University of Michigan.
The reason for this disparity is systemic and structural racism, which causes barriers in access to technology plus social and psychological barriers ranging from stereotypes to a lack of representation and role models. That is according to the Kapor Center, an organization that works to remove barriers to Science, Technology, Engineering and Math education and tech careers for underrepresented people of color.
And Lita’s passion to change this for her students is not only a vision for Milwaukee, but it is also personal for her. I wanted to know about that vision, but first, we should start at the beginning of her story: How she changed paths from Biomedical Engineering to returning to Milwaukee to become a principal -- aka entrepreneur -- helping to shape these bright young minds.