It’s Back to School time again it may be my favorite time of year. I loved school as a child and to this day I enjoy the time when families’ attention turns to school. My own school day memories are very special. Many of my teachers are still dear friends today.
My mom used to make our clothes and she would spend the last few weeks leading up to school opening getting my sister and I ready—we always had the cutest clothes but it was important in those days that people thought your clothes all came from a local store. My Mom was incredibly talented—she made the clothes partly because it saved our family the money and because we were small and as we got older, dressing our age was harder to do. Mostly she made our clothes because she loved to sew—it was her private time, her chance to be creative. I would sit with her at night and watch her sew up a storm and we would talk—it was also our time together. When my mom passed away in 1972 I rescued her sewing supplies and many of her outfits handmade and detailed by her. I have boxes of thread and buttons and patterns that still have her special scent—a combination of her cologne and her favorite cigarettes—sadly,Chesterfield was the tobacco brand. I have raided the thread and button boxes many times looking for the absolutely perfect size button and/or thread and color for a jacket or blouse. The threads are still strong and the buttons often collectors items! The clothes hang in sealed garment bags and make me smile every time I come across them—still classic and beautiful. If only they fit!
Last Sunday I went to see the movie, The Help, with 2 girl friends and I was brought back to those days in the 1960’s that had such a strong influence on me—the days by my Mom’s side that taught me about personal freedom, the right to choose and the equality of people and most of all, the value of a good education to take you to a brighter future. Luckily for me even though I grew up in the same tumultuous times The Help portrays, I was taught a different sensibility and a respect and kinship with people of all ethnicities and backgrounds.
After the movie I had to do an errand at Walgreen’s and I wandered to the busy school supply section. More memories—having to have a certain kind of notebook and pens. Today the stores have lists to help parents but in my day that was our job, the kids—we went to school and had to write it all down and be sure to have it when the teacher asked. It was simpler times for sure—not as many choices and perhaps more standardization between schools. I wandered the aisles at Walgreens and picked up a few colorful notebooks and had to buy some new pens and a pencil case for my briefcase. It was a truly simple pleasure.
When my friend’s kids were younger we would count the days until school and even decide way ahead of time what the kids would wear. As they got older they invited me to book day to pick out school books and supplies. I have to say that while they may not have been as eager as I was for the start of my school years, they all looked forward to school, their friends and the learning ahead.
Of all the values taught by my parents, the value of a good education was not lost on me—in fact it is why and how I do what I do today. Without that encouragement from my teachers and my family, I would not have had the benefit of a college degree and the success I have achieved. I am the product of a public education from 1st grade through college. I never take it for granted. Today I spend as much time as I can engaged in improving public education. Trying to bring the schools in St. Louis up to what is needed for our kids to succeed in the 21st century. It is laborious –it is such a complex issue, but it is a labor of love. Building a system of good schools is my dream for our community. Being a living breathing example of what a quality education can do to change one’s life, I want the same for the children in St. Louis.
There is much polarization on the subject of public education especially public education in the urban core ofAmerica’s cities. It is a subject that will bring out passion that is for sure. For me it is certainly about passion—passion for rebuilding our community and about providing a quality educational opportunity in EVERY zip code inSt. Louis. It is much easier said than done!
St. Louisis a classic story of migration out of the cities, declines in the tax base and the opportunity for kids to have choices. This has left the St. Louis Public Schools, in terrible shape.
In 1967 when I graduated from High School in Coral Gables, FL, SLPS had over 115,000 students registered in its district. Today, that is about 25,000 give or take a few thousand. In 1967 they had about 90 neighborhood schools serving about 1300 kids per school and today we have 66 schools serving about 380 on average. Too many schools and many travel way out of their neighborhood to attend classes to a school they think will help them grow. Sadly, too few are able to do that. The schools fall far behind the state and local suburban schools in test scores and with the economic downturn of the last few years, annual budgets are cut drastically. Having gone through many superintendents, today our able leader, Dr. Kelvin Adams has some tenure. He just started his 4th school tear and the schools have stabilized.
St. Louis is also a city with a growing number of public charter schools and one I helped bring to St. Louis—KIPP Inspire Academy. Today we serve about 270 5th, 6th and 7th graders in a renovated church school building that had been closed down. Our staff, many of which were Teacher For America Corps Members who taught in SLPS, is dedicated to being sure that our KIPPsters will graduate from the 8th grade on or ahead of their grade level and ready to enter a high performing high school to prepare then for college or their secondary education they need to fulfill their dreams. Not all public schools or charter schools are created equal nor do they serve the same children but we are one that is making progress—our 6th graders had gigantic improvements in math and communication arts over their 5th grade tests. When you look at the performance of children on the Free and Reduced lunch program our kids scores are sky high, and actually far surpass SLPS and many suburban schools as well. We are proud of our KIPPsters and their families and our teachers—it DOES take a village.
I remember a song—“School days, school days, dear old golden rule days…” It is true—time to give education back to kids as you would have education given to you.
Love, hugs and smiles to all,