• St. Louis Public Schools deserve our strong support
    by Richard McClure

    Richard McClure is former president of UniGroup, past chair of the St. Louis Teach for America Advisory Board, and a co-chair of the Ferguson Commission.
    If St. Louis is to prosper, so must its civic institutions. St. Louis has many jewels: a championship baseball team, renowned universities and rich cultural attractions. A strong public school system is even more important. After years of turmoil, it is clear that the St. Louis Public Schools are making a steady comeback. Just as we are fervent fans of our sports teams, we must also be strong supporters of a strengthening St. Louis Public Schools system.

    In early February, the district shared its Transformation Plan, a blueprint for student success. Under the leadership of Superintendent Kelvin Adams and the Special Administrative Board, the foundation for success has been set: The district has regained provisional accreditation, shown fiscal responsibility and stabilized its leadership. Superintendent Adams has been clear: “Now is not the time for rest, much hard work is left to be done.” The district is still accepting feedback through mid-March when the plan will be finalized and approved.

    The Transformation Plan inspires a vision: What would it be like to equip all students with the opportunity to graduate from high school and pursue college or career preparation? District leadership is calling for hard work. As a community, we need to support the vision. Ensuring that all kids “read to learn” by third grade, are on track for high school graduation by ninth grade, and complete high school ready for college-level academics or a career is the right standard, even if it is a challenging one. Great school leaders and great teachers can make that happen.

    For some of the St. Louis Public Schools, that north star is far away, and for students growing up in poverty, the path forward has many potential obstacles. Superintendent Adams has rightly focused on aggressive improvement strategies for these “Superintendent Zone” schools. Other schools in the district have been experiencing improving performance and graduation rates.

    Even if we are not parents or students in the St. Louis Public Schools, we have a role to play in accelerating the success of the St. Louis Public Schools system. We can advance the vision and carefully thought-out direction of its leadership. We can support the systemwide goals by investing in the St. Louis Public Schools Foundation, whose four key priorities are tightly aligned to district goals.

    The district’s plan is bold. But for real positive change to occur, it is incumbent on all of our schools to “make no small plans.” It requires steadfast leadership, tough choices and creative partnerships. It will require the community to keep leadership accountable, to make certain that decisions are made on behalf of students.

    As it relates to equity and justice, St. Louis must redefine itself. As a region, we must collectively commit to supporting what students say they want. At a recent Ferguson Commission hosted youth summit, young people said what they wanted in schools: qualified teachers, adults who care, high expectations, clear career pathways. Speaking as one citizen, I am encouraged that the Transformation Plan prioritizes these desires. Better yet, the plan carefully articulates how the district will change to support what students need most, and how it will track its progress.

    The Transformation Plan was created with the input of all stakeholders — principals, teachers, students and the St. Louis community. Their voices challenged the district leadership to think deeper, just as the voices of the community have challenged the Ferguson Commission to think more deeply. Under strong leadership, the St. Louis Public Schools’ Transformation Plan lays out a strong vision that deserves support from all across our region.

    Richard McClure is former president of UniGroup, past chair of the St. Louis Teach for America Advisory Board, and a co-chair of the Ferguson Commission.