Increasing Enrollment and Improving District Reputation
SLPS must increase enrollment so that schools receive the funding they need to operate high-quality schools and offer the opportunities students need to achieve academic and social-emotional success. SLPS should increase efforts to reach out to the community and potential students’ families through mailings, open houses, townhalls, meet and greets, etc. Currently, these opportunities are held sporadically, not well advertised, and/or don’t reach the intended audience. In a market, like St. Louis, that is oversaturated with school choice, SLPS must always be in the forefront of residents’ minds. Obviously, budgetary limitations exist, so free and low-cost options must be explored and implemented. Current SLPS district and school websites are out-of-date, cluttered, and difficult to navigate. Since a website is often a parent’s first destination when exploring education options, SLPS must put forth the most accurate information on the web. In addition, SLPS policies and procedures for enrollment and magnet school applications must be clearly outlined and explained on the website along with easy-to-navigate contact information for district employees.
The expansion of community education centers in SLPS schools would also improve public confidence in the district. Community education centers would give more people the opportunity to visit SLPS schools and see firsthand how SLPS serves the community. Using SLPS schools and buildings to host workshops, clinics, meetings, and classes would build relationships with all community stakeholders and develop stronger community bonds within neighborhoods all across the city. In addition, more segments of the population would have access to crucial services like education and healthcare if we made SLPS buildings available to community organizations during non-school hours.
Neighborhood schools are a wonderful asset to the neighborhood and larger community. They provide a central gathering place for students and families which leads to community engagement and investment. Neighborhood schools bring communities together, making them stronger. Instead of continuing to close neighborhood schools, SLPS should be expanding opportunities at neighborhood schools.
Magnet schools provide options for students looking for a specialized or specific educational experience. The magnet programs in SLPS are unique, creative, and an asset to the district. The magnet programs contribute to a student’s personal investment in their education as well as provide opportunities that may not be present in a neighborhood school. Magnet school programs should continue to be supported in SLPS. However, it should not be assumed that the magnet schools are “better” than the neighborhood schools, nor should magnet schools be given priority funding or publicity. Magnet schools are a option for SLPS families but they are not and should not be a replacement for neighborhood schools.
Charter schools which are performing well should remain open as they provide a quality educational experience for children. However, low performing charter schools should be identified and evaluated to ensure they are meeting students’ needs. We should not open any additional charter schools in St. Louis City at this time. Charter schools pull funding from SLPS since they also operate as public schools. There are far too many schools in St. Louis, all of which are competing for the same funds and resources. We need to focus efforts on ensuring that all schools currently in operation are providing a high-quality education and experience to students.
Teaching and Learning
In order for students to learn, they must be engaged and invested in their schools. This starts with creating a school culture that celebrates students as individuals and provides them with a safe, welcoming place to learn. Since many students in SLPS come from low-income or otherwise disadvantaged families, SLPS should make sure a students’ basic needs (food, clothing, shelter) are met, and when they’re not, schools should utilize community resources to provide students with the things they need. SLPS schools should also implement additional trauma-sensitive policies to improve student mental health.
Classroom learning should incorporate teaching strategies that lead to high student engagement and high academic achievement such as project-based learning, cross-curricular experiences, and incorporating student choice into activities. In addition, students should participate in authentic learning experiences to truly integrate knowledge with practical applications. Curricular decisions should be based on educational research and best practices yet teachers should be able to modify content to reach their students while still meeting learning standards. The district should adopt and maintain consistent approaches to teaching and learning so that teachers are not required to learn a new approach or program every year. Teachers should have the time and opportunity to hone their skills and teaching methods in order to provide the best possible experience for students. Teachers also need time to learn from and collaborate with other teachers through effective mentor programs and professional learning communities.
We also need to ensure that schools and classrooms have the resources they need to be effective. Teachers need access to supplies, books, and essentials like paper and pencils for their students, in order to do their job well. As a district, we must find a way to provide more of those things to all schools and all classrooms to decrease the burden of the classroom teachers.
I believe that these ideas for teaching and learning will go a long way toward promoting academic achievement for students. However, the results will not be instantaneous. In the meantime, the school district should modify and improve their policies for credit recovery. While graduation rates should remain a high priority, students should not receive course credit for merely completing simple assignments or attending summer school. We need to increase expectations for struggling students to ensure that we are not only helping them to graduate high school but also preparing them for future education and career opportunities. Summer school should be restructured to ensure a quality learning experience while also utilizing non-traditional or supplemental teaching methods that may be more beneficial to underperforming students. Virtual school options should be analyzed and evaluated to ensure that providers are offering students options that lead to content mastery and not just busy work.
In addition to their high school grades, students are often placed into remedial courses based on their ACT scores. We must ensure that all SLPS students who want to go to college have access to quality ACT preparation programs and materials as well as opportunities to take practice tests. SLPS should also consider district-wide policies for assisting students with transportation to testing sites and/or providing breakfast and snack on test days so that students can perform to their best abilities.
Paid for by the Committee to Elect Dorothy Rohde Collins, Dorothy Rohde-Collins, Treasurer