Reimagining Education

Response to Councilwoman Hazel Erby

To read Councilwoman Hazel Erby’s article click here.

Missouri students deserve an education from a school in their community. Moreover they deserve a QUALITY education in their community. Unfortunately, the Normandy School District has not been providing quality education for the last 17 years. It has been provisionally accredited since 2004, which is as far back as DESE’s website is tracking that information.

Where were the school board and community years ago? Why wasn’t anyone rallying to make the education for these children better years ago? What about those children’s right to free public schools? What about the generations of families who were denied a quality education for all those years?

I do not believe it is good for any child, or parent, to have to deal with the uncertainty of what will happen at the end of this school year. And the legislature is doing no one any favors by waiting until the last minute to try to solve this crisis. But one thing is for certain: something has to give for those kids.

Normandy children should no longer be trapped in failing schools, and parents should not be forced to send their children there. The Children’s Education Alliance of Missouri (CEAM) worked with parents during the transfer process. More than 300 people came to our first meeting. Twenty-five percent of the parents in the Normandy and Riverview Gardens School Districts were successfully able to transfer their children out of those failing districts, and that is awesome for those children.

But I would like to tell you about the other parents who did not choose to keep their children in the unaccredited districts, but were forced to because they could not provide transportation on a daily basis, or their paperwork got lost by the sending district, or they had to work and couldn’t make a meeting scheduled for the middle of the day, or they couldn’t come up with the $45 to get their occupancy permit, or they just knew there was no way they could get all the legal paperwork required in the short six-week period they were offered. These school districts did everything possible to keep those kids trapped in their failing community schools.

What is criminal is that these two school districts have been inadequately providing a mediocre education to some very at-risk youth for 20 years. Equally as criminal, is that there are educators that see children as dollar bill signs rather than the little vessels of potential that they truly are.

And with all this focus on having good schools in the community, I seem to remember a piece of legislation that would actually keep the community schools open and let them be managed by another education agency. Why did that get taken off the table? Where was the outrage when that was being discussed in the legislature? It seems to me that would have solved a lot of problems.

But you know what the real problem is? Draconian school districts that refuse to make changes to a failing education system. Districts that lay off teachers in the order they were hired instead of keeping the good ones and laying off the under performers. Also districts that are not willing to make compromises for the benefit of those children that they are dealing with everyday. Especially the ones that chose to pay lobbyists and settlement costs instead of teacher professional development.

Everyone wants to bring up poverty and lack of resources and lack of parental engagement. Well, all kids can learn. Charter schools like KIPP, whose most recent MSIP5 scores show them educating children well above average, is in a low income and transient community.

Normandy School District spends above the average per pupil for the state. And I have seen the parents of Normandy be engaged. But it takes someone to engage them. Instead of having parent liaisons manage untouched community computer labs that don’t even have Microsoft Office on them, send them out into the community to talk to the parents and invite them to be part of the solution.

That is exactly what we are going to do next time a school district gets unaccredited. We will be right out there knocking on doors to let parents know what their rights are and what they need and how to navigate the transfer process. And we will do that because we believe all children deserve access to quality education, no matter what zip code they live in.

~Lorna Kurdi, Director of Advocacy and Outreach

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