The St. Louis area has had more than its share of education headlines this past year. St. Louis schools are trying to regain accreditation amid much turmoil. Normandy and Riverview Gardens lost their accreditation. The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has taken over the Normandy School District and announced that all teachers must reapply for their jobs. Riverview Gardens is in a holding pattern as it has enough resources to continue school for a while, but uncertainty remains and its academic record is poor.
In essence, these situations are disastrous for the St. Louis community and its children. We deserve better, we need better and it is time for all of us to speak up and be heard.
What should we say and do?
At issue are inequities in some places, true. But that comes down to an issue of commitment by this community and the willingness to do what it takes to provide quality schooling for all children in our state. Most important it takes the commitment of our legislators to provide proper funding and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to do its part well.
Let me give you some examples:
DESE is taking over the finances and hiring of the Normandy schools BUT what about the educational component for the student? Their programs must become rigorous. I would think that DESE would be most concerned about the academic programs, the overall curriculum and the competence of the teaching staff. As for the last, all staff members have been told they must reapply for their jobs. That is an extremely important first step. But much more is needed. There should be a summer educational institute for the teaching staff and then continual in-service training throughout the year. That may be a new role for DESE, but a most important one. A team has been appointed to oversee the school district and one hopes DESE will oversee the team. If in fact this takeover is a success it could be a model for other school districts that are not doing well but have not yet lost accreditation.
Riverview Gardens has been operating with an appointed board since 2010, and the recent announcements coming from DESE has not yet addressed all of its concerns. To show improvement drastic measures must be taken.
Please keep in mind that this is not only a race issue but a poverty issue. Where does DESE put its resources and expertise? If you look at the Harlem Renaissance School in New York, you will discover that those students do extremely well and the school has among the best teachers in the district whose salaries are excellent.
What does all this say about us and our state? We have lagged in some extremely important areas but we also have the ability to turn around those schools if the will and the desire are there. While I believe our legislators now realize that something must be done, the bill they passed last session does not address many of these issues. It no longer would provides transportation, which would mean that most of the students who wanted to transfer could not. And sufficient resources are still not available. It is not fair to allow so many of our children to go uneducated in this day and age.
Sadly this academic problem is not new. It has been happening in those school districts for many years and has not been properly addressed. So let us go forward to correct these ills and then see that such a horrendous event for our children does not happen again in these districts or any other school districts in our region.
It is a sorry day for all of us when we allow such inequities in quality to exist any place in our region.
With DESE leading the way we must work to assure that all of our children throughout the state receive a quality education. We owe that to these young students and to ourselves as an essential part of our region’s strength.