Catholic schools and public schools are often viewed as being in competition with each other. While this may be necessary when it comes to school sports, ensuring that children are successful requires the effort of the entire community and all the schools in that area. Joplin, Missouri, is a prime example of how public-private school cooperation benefits all students.
“We have always had a great working relationship with the public schools,” notes Principal Gene Koester of McAuley Catholic High School. “For years all the schools in the community have cooperated well when it comes to Title I & II federal education programs.” These programs help students with reading, language and other developmental problems.
“Joplin public schools made it easy for our students to get the services they were entitled to. They were also very good about taking care of the costs of our teacher development in these areas,” he noted. “The Joplin public schools are always informing us of educational programs or meetings that might be of value to our students and teachers. They take a very Christian, professional attitude toward us.”
One innovative program begun several years ago by Joplin Public School Superintendent C.J. Huff was Bright Futures. With a large majority of Joplin area students meeting the definition of poverty, this program was created to help meet the needs of at-risk students and to keep them from dropping out of school. By engaging churches, businesses and human services organizations, resources are provided to meet the needs of students.
Catholic school students participated in adopting schools and had food and clothing drives to assist the needy. “For example, we have clothing resources at our church,” noted Fr. J. Friedel of St. Peter the Apostle parish in Joplin. “If a child comes to the public school without decent shoes, they contact us and we try to meet their needs. It is a good working relationship.”
The relationship between the public and private schools became even closer after the EF5 tornado devastated the community of Joplin on May 22, 2011. With the destruction of St. Mary’s Catholic Elementary School as well as several of the public schools, it was essential to work together.
“After the tornado, Catholic and public school officials would meet often by phone or in meetings to see how we could help each other,” said Steve Jones principal of St. Mary’s School. “We were both in need of facilities so we would keep each other updated on leads for new locations that would work for us,” said Jones. Numerous items (TVs, computers, books) were donated and shared between the public and private schools. “Wish-lists” for the Catholic school teachers were added to the lists of public school teachers. This mutual cooperation, plus overwhelming community, national and international support helped both the public and parochial schools to start the school year on time.
Perhaps the greatest sign of the mutual respect between the Catholic community and the public school system in Joplin came when Mercy Health System donated the former 50-acre St. John’s campus in Joplin to three Joplin groups, including the public school system to build a new school. St. John’s Hospital was destroyed by the May 22 tornado.
Today Joplin is a community that is looking toward the future. It is a community that values the education of all its children and is enriched by a spirit of cooperation between its public and private schools.