Reimagining Education

St. Louis parent asks legislators to expand school choice

Keri Wright knows firsthand the benefits of finding a good school that fits. She escaped poor education in St. Louis when she was younger by participating in the desegregation program. Today she is doing everything she can to help her children have similar opportunities.

“Although decades apart in our educational needs, the traditional school system was still unequipped to meet the needs of my children,” she said this week while traveling to Jefferson City to advocate for more education options for parents and families.

Wright spent Tuesday traveling around the state capitol talking to legislators, their chiefs of staff and their legislative assistants. She told them how her family could benefit from either the expansion of charter schools or the creation of an Empowerment Scholarship Account program.

Her family’s complex story highlights the need for better access to schools of choice.

Wright’s children first learned how different education could be in a different school when they escaped Normandy schools during the transfer program.

“They were bullied regularly, unable to learn, and would come home crying,” she said. “I have never had to comfort my children the way I did when they were in that school district during those months before they were allowed to take part in the voluntary transfer program. They were transferred to the Frances Howell school district. My children flourished for three years before the transportation for the transfer program ended.”

Knowing that she could not allow her students to return to a school that did not work for them, Wright made the difficult decision to move to St. Louis City so her children could have better options. She ended up in a less safe neighborhood, where her children cannot go outside to play.

“There are times when my children cannot play outside in the area that we live in because it is dangerous,” she said. “We did not know that before moving there.”

But the move has allowed two of her children to attend Premier Charter School where they have thrived.

“My oldest daughter Madison, was invited to join the gifted program at her Premier,” said Wright. “She was also invited to take part in an accelerated math program after school. My kindergartner, under the diligent assistance of her teacher, no longer needs speech therapy. I found the staff emotionally and mentally invested in the success of my children. My children are offered many opportunities to succeed.”

She has had less success with her son who qualified to go a magnate school, Gateway Middle School.

“My son has been bullied for being nice, bullied for being quiet, ignored by teachers, given a failing grade during the first quarter because his teacher called him by the wrong name so often that he graded him based on that other student’s behavior instead of his own,” said Wright. “When asked about this at the parent teacher’s conference, he had to look at my son for some time before he could even tell me about his course and behavior. He admitted his mistake. My son’s science teacher quit that same quarter because one of the students stole her car. This left my son without a science teacher for three months, only getting a new teacher in January 2019.”

Wright told legislators that expanding charter schools would be a big benefit for her family.

“If charter schools were allowed to expand to the St. Louis County areas my family would be able to live in a quiet, safe neighborhood in which they could play outside and make friends with the neighbors,” she said.

Likewise, an Empowerment Scholarship Account program would open up the possibility for her children to attend a private school.

My daughter has the opportunity to attend a private school next year,” she said. “Whitfield is almost $30,000 a year which is more than half of what I make in a year. If the ESA bill is passed this would go a long way in helping to cover the cost remaining after her scholarship.”

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