In the last several weeks the St. Louis Public Schools and the Normandy School District traded places on the list of unaccredited and provisionally accredited schools. . Congratulations to the city schools for regaining provisional status and good luck to Normandy on its journey back to accreditation. Here in the St. Louis region we typically only talk about our public school challenges or occasionally the Kansas City challenges but the list of unaccredited and provisional schools in Missouri, in addition to St. Louis and Normandy, includes: Calhoun, Caruthersville, Gilliam, Gorin, Hayti, Hickman Hills, Jennings, Malta Bend, Spickard, Swedeborg and Riverview Gardens. In total these 14 districts come from all across the state and are rural, urban, large, small, predominantly white, predominantly African American but have at least one thing in common; a higher than the state average of children eligible for and receiving free and reduced lunches. This translates into children and their families living at or near the poverty rate. In Missouri a family of 4 is eligible for free or reduced lunch if their gross annual income is at or below $29,965. Those of you with children please take a moment and do the math on how you would make less than $2,500 stretch for everything you need in a given month.
The state of Missouriís average free and reduced lunch per district is 49.5% - an alarming statistic in and of itself. The fourteen districts that are unaccredited or provisionally accredited have free and reduced lunch percentages range from 55.6 in Spickard to 92.7 in Riverview Gardens. These figures represent the fact that families struggle to make ends meet each and every day. This struggle, in turn, increases the likelihood of external stress factors like the inability to stay current on rent or mortgage, keeping utility bills manageable and putting food on your table. These real life dilemmas occupy parents minds and time and make it difficult to stay focused on their childrenís academic lives. Creating a stable sense of home is truly difficult.
While there has been a growing recognition of the correlation between poverty and school performance little has been to done to systemically address it. Recently, a survey for the Normandy Schools indicated that 111 organizations were working with the schools. This activity, unless strategically planned, will have minimal value. Here are some of the next steps that will and need to happen next;
The school district must prioritize what external programs are needed to keep a laser focus on student achievement.
Only programs in these prioritized areas and with demonstrated, quantifiable impacts will be partners moving forward.
Our regional funding community must allocate dollars to these impactful programs prioritized by the school district.
School districts must push for scale in all programs to ensure that student achievement turns into school district success.
Funding from the public sector, local, state and federal should prioritize funding to areas with clearly defined school support programs that have impact and scale. These public funds need to be in all areas of community from housing, social services, economic development, health and wellness and others.
As the struggles of school districts across the state reflect it is not size or geography that will determine success but rather the quality of the education being provided and our ability to support the families and neighborhoods where the schools are located. We need to recognize that where a child lives - their house, their apartment and their neighborhood - matters. In essence, home matters. Home is about the life that happens in and around the house, as well as the life that fuels and draws out the best of people within it.
(The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of St. Louis Public Radio.)
Chris Krehmeyer is the President/CEO of Beyond Housing, a Neighborworks America organization in St. Louis, Missouri. He has served in that capacity since 1993. Chris has or currently sits on a variety of boards and has been an adjunct faculty member at Washington University teaching a class in social entrepreneurship. Chris is married with three children and has an undergraduate degree in Urban Studies from Washington University.