An editorial for The St. Louis American by Natalie Vowell
Since its inception in 1838, the Saint Louis Public School District developed a reputation for forward-thinking, inclusive approaches to education. In 1873, we became the first district to offer public kindergarten; in 1875, we opened the first high school west of the Mississippi River for African American students; in the early 1900’s, we engineered the first open-air and accessible schools to ensure that no child affected by disease or physiological disadvantage was bereft of a chance at a quality education.
St. Louis City is currently writing an unprecedented education comeback story. On July 1, 2019, the St. Louis Board of Education made history by regaining elected control of our district after state intervention revoked the Board’s authority over a decade ago. The 2007 loss of accreditation led to the installation of an appointed Special Administrative Board which would govern SLPS for the next 12 years. On April 16, 2019, the State Board of Education voted to restore governance to the duly elected Board of Education. We are now engaged in a high-stakes, high-reward endeavor to rebuild trust in our community, re-empower St. Louis citizens, and equitably manage a $400 million budget to effect positive change in the lives of over 20,000 SLPS students. Presently, disenfranchised districts across the nation are looking to St. Louis as a model, and once again we are reclaiming our legacy of “firsts”.
As we resume governance, it is important to understand what a school board does and does not do; in fact, that was the first challenge the Board of Education itself had to confront. The Board’s sole responsibilities are setting the District’s goals, vision, and hiring a superintendent who will carry out the procedures necessary to meet those expectations. The Board should not directly manage district affairs but instead evaluate the superintendent in relation to student achievement and equitable outcomes. That is how the SAB has operated, and the Board of Education intends to support Superintendent Dr. Kelvin Adams and continue to build and improve upon that progress.
It is time to jettison the too-familiar, tired mention of the “dysfunction” inherent to an elected school board. Grievously underemphasized have been the qualities of an effective board. The governance team driving SLPS’s narrative out of the past and into the future is comprised of parents, nonprofit professionals, former teachers and administrators, business executives, community leaders, volunteers, but﹘most importantly﹘seven people, chosen by the voters of St. Louis, who have exemplified dedication to serving the students of SLPS.
Sacrificing many nights and weekends over the past year through extensive training via collaboration with the National School Boards’ Association, the Missouri School Boards’ Association, the Special Administrative Board, the Superintendent and SLPS staff, the Board is prepared to break new ground at our first meeting as a governing body on July 9th. We hope to see you, our rightful constituents, there to hold us accountable with great expectations and help pave the way for new milestones in public education.
The meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m. on July 9th, at Saint Louis Public Schools District Office, 801 N. 11th Street, St. Louis MO, 63101.