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Commentary: Public Education's Big Fix

In the coming weeks the future of the Normandy School District and that of every other district in the state will determined by the elected leadership in Jefferson City.  Normandy, currently unaccredited, will run out of money at some point between April and the end of the school year.  This topic covers so many difficult areas to not only talk about but also find consensus: public education, race, poverty and power.  The two separate but related fixes are a short term infusion of capital to allow Normandy to finish the school year and a long term fix to the tuition payments required under the recent Missouri Supreme Court ruling.  It is my hope that both of these solutions happen.  I do, however, want to raise an issue that is merely alluded to in just about every education reform plan offered to date: the importance of supporting the creation of strong families and strong communities.  

Whether it is the CEE Trust report given the state or the Missouri Association of School Administrators, the fact that high concentrations of poverty and a corollary high annual mobility rate make it truly harder for children to succeed.  These acknowledgements are fine but rarely is there the then next step taken to do something about it.  Clearly, districts like Normandy need to deliver education to our children in a different manner than in the past.  Normandy is currently doing just that but few take the time to really understand their exciting new teaching methods.  We seemed to be singularly focused on who is in charge rather than what they are doing to educate our children.  It feels like anything is better than the current affairs even if you don’t know the current state of affairs.  What also needs to happen is that we recognize the failure to provide systemic work on housing, health, jobs and economic development will push any new model of education reform into failure.  

The issue is not an either/or proposition but instead and and/both commitment.  Just as we should welcome strong, effective charter schools to every community in the region to work side by side with our traditional public schools we should make priority the improving of housing, health, jobs and economic development in the communities where schools struggle.   Further, if we know that mobility is a problem for our children then what are we doing to address it?  How do we keep families in their homes and not disrupt their academic experience?  The failure of our public education system has to be dealt with both inside the classroom and out in the community.  Today’s conversation cannot but simplified and have us look for the silver bullet – it does not exist.  Our children’s success requires us to think differently, act differently and not view people who don’t fully agree with us as the enemy.  
Chris Krehmeyer is the president/CEO of Beyond Housing, a Neighborworks America organization in St. Louis.