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New CEO of Little Bit Foundation hopes to fill in pandemic learning gaps

Miranda Walker Jones poses for a photo after being named the new CEO of the Little Bit Foundation.
Little Bit Foundation
Miranda Walker Jones has been selected as the new CEO of the Little Bit Foundation.

Miranda Walker Jones was recently named the new CEO of the Little Bit Foundation.

Walker Jones also is the president of the Jennings School District’s board of directors and has spent almost two decades working in public service in St. Louis. She held leadership roles at Better Family Life and in Rep. Cori Bush’s St. Louis congressional office, and she’s served on the Jennings City Council.

St. Louis Public Radio's Kate Grumke spoke with Miranda Walker Jones as she steps into this new position with the Little Bit Foundation

Kate Grumke: Why did this position appeal to you?

Miranda Walker Jones: This organization really works to break down barriers to learning and filling the gap for under-resourced students in the St. Louis area. So we do this by embedding ourselves in schools, coordinating programs, partnerships to really address basic needs and empower students with new learning opportunities. So, really, we work to serve the whole child.

Grumke: As the president of the Jennings School District's board of directors, you have a hand in more official school district decision-making. So what role do outside organizations like Little Bit fill that school districts can't?

Walker Jones: You know, school districts right now, and I'm going to speak specifically to school districts that are in the demographic that we serve, so when you're looking at north county school districts, districts that are 90-90-90 districts, which serve 90% free and reduced lunch, the focus on academics is huge.

We are all in these districts, really, trying to get us to be academically high performing districts and a lot of times are under-resourced in those areas. We spend a lot of time remediating, you know, bringing students that are not achieving up and then really trying to make sure that we're getting students that are high achieving, into those things where they're getting gifted programs and they're getting a chance to go on to post-secondary education.

And while you're in the process of doing that, right now everybody's short staffed, everybody is looking for resources. Having organizations like the Little Bit Foundation that can come in, we look at just a little bit of help and being able to provide those resources, being able to be a backup to those teachers, backup to the school districts, providing programs, mentoring programs, helping with some STEM, just helping to take care of the basic needs. I think it's imperative that community partnerships like this work well with different school districts.

Grumke: And since you have such an up-close look at the needs of the St. Louis community, how have you seen the pandemic change the needs of students?

Walker Jones: Obviously during the pandemic, it really showed the digital divide, the gaps between the haves and the have-nots. Not only the digital divide, but the food insecurity, obviously the lack of having really good health care systems embedded within our organization, within our communities, are some of the things that came to light as a result of the pandemic.

We have a whole lot of ground to make up and the test results show it, so much so that the state is saying, "We're not even really looking at test scores for last year because we know that there was such interruption in our children's learning," Which is more of a reason why you'll need organizations like Little Bit to help fill in the gaps so that the students and administrators can really figure out how to bridge those two years of academic loss.

Grumke: When you think about education in St. Louis, what's your long-term vision, and how do you think we should start to move in that direction?

Walker Jones: The big picture for me is being able to bridge the gap between the haves and the have-nots. You know, districts that do really great work and that perform at a really high level with districts that may be struggling. And those struggling districts, they work so hard. You have such dedicated, passionate teachers and administrators, but they may not have the same resources and the same opportunities and the same support that other districts may have.

I would love for us to help to convene and to bring districts, bring organizations together so that we can share best practices, so that we can figure out how to equalize the playing field, so that every child, no matter if you're in north county or if you're in Clayton or if you're in Ladue or if you're in the city of St. Louis, that we all have the opportunity to have A-1 first-rate education, that you feel supported, that you have what you need and that St. Louis can be a model. The St. Louis region can be a model for what a good educational system looks like across the board.

Follow Kate on Twitter: @KGrumke

Kate Grumke covers the environment, climate and agriculture for St. Louis Public Radio and Harvest Public Media.