Editor's Weekly: St. Louisans step up | St. Louis Public Radio

Editor's Weekly: St. Louisans step up

Jun 11, 2015

It’s easier to see problems than to solve them, easier to squelch ideas than to carry them to fruition. But in the news this week, you’ll find unmistakable signs that many St. Louisans are stepping up to turn our bleak winter into a season of growth.

Here’s how.

Honesty in Normandy

Principal GeNita Williams presents certificates to eight graders at Normandy Middle School's promotion ceremony.
Credit Dale Singer | St. Louis Public Radio

One of the most poignant signs of progress was, ironically, an admission of failure. In Normandy, schools remain academically deficient and financially shaky despite state intervention. At a promotion ceremony this week, state school board member Mike Jones told middle school students and their parents that they deserve “a collective apology for failing to provide you with the education experience you should have.”

“You can’t get to common ground until you first admit that we made some mistakes,” Jones told St. Louis Public Radio’s Dale Singer.  “It didn’t go like any of us wanted it to go. We had good intentions, but good intentions didn’t get it done.”

Such candor is painful – not only for officials but for students whose school years have been wasted. An apology by itself won’t fix what went wrong. But it’s an essential step to establishing trust and coming to grips with reality. Community leaders might remember that when tackling other regional issues.

New programs for Ferguson

Danielle Kain, 12, during the first day of summer camp at the Boys & Girls Club at Ferguson Middle School.
Credit Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

The Boys & Girls Club program that opened this week at Ferguson Middle School will serve 200 kids this summer. Private donors and foundations raised half a million dollars for it, St. Louis Public Radio’s Durrie Bouscaren reported.

It’s one of many efforts underway to address Ferguson’s immediate needs with effort and money, not just talk. Another, called Coming Together Ferguson, announced grants of $39,000 from an anonymous donor, given out through a board of people with direct connections to Ferguson.

Mega-gifts for the region

Work underway on the Arch grounds, part of the CityArchRiver project.
Credit Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio

The Taylor family foundation announced another round of major philanthropy – more than $90 million total for Forest Park Forever, CityArchRiver and several other organizations. Previously, the family pledged $22 million in donations to schools and other organizations that help kids.

In recent years, many of St. Louis’ biggest corporations have decamped or been swallowed. That has raised concern that corporate leaders will no longer be committed to charitable efforts here. The Taylors’ gifts show that St. Louis’ well of civic resources still runs deep. Replenishing it will depend on growth of new companies, not just the fate of old ones. The story of Enterprise Holdings, the company that Jack Taylor built, demonstrates how new wealth can be created.

Lessons learned

Coincidentally this week, Evita Caldwell provided some long-term perspective on an earlier effort to address St. Louis’ problems.  Caldwell attended Jefferson Elementary School when it was part of an experiment called the Vashon Compact. Driven by developer Richard Baron, the idea was to marshal resources for an intense push to help “at risk” students on the city’s near north side.

Caldwell reflected on the experience in a project published by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the St. Louis American. While the effort made a difference, she said, it was not the only, or even the primary reason some students succeeded.

“Having a strong support system at home, I cannot say that I felt at risk,” she wrote. “My parents had high expectations for me, and by then I had them for myself. But I did understand that not every student had the necessary foundation for success.

“You could look back and say I was a beneficiary of this largesse. But there was more to it and less to it than that. My parents and Mary Spencer (her teacher) were the keys to my success, and they were in place long before Baron came on the scene.”

And so, the news this week delivered not only glimpses of St. Louisans stepping up to solve problems but also lessons about how to do that effectively.

  • From Jones: Be candid in admitting mistakes.
  • From Ferguson: Commit effort and money, not just talk.
  • From the Taylors’ gift: Look forward, not back, to develop civic resources.
  • From Caldwell: Respect the strength and wisdom of people in solving their own problems.