Schools “R” Us How Local Partnerships Can Revitalize K-12 Education
By: Mike Hoey
If, in the fall, you visit a small town on a Friday night what do you see? The lights from the high school football stadium beckon. If you go there and talk to people in the stands, many will tell you their kids are doing fine. Some are making plans for college; others are hunting up job prospects. Some of those playing on the field may have attended a Catholic elementary school, but now they are part of this school and they feel at home. They know the other kids; this is their town.
Across Missouri local schools represent the heart and soul of communities. They do more than educate children. One recent Saturday morning while visiting my daughter and her family in Palmyra, I took a walk and happened by the public high school. The parking lot was full of cars and pickups. When I got back to my daughter’s house I asked her husband, who is a teacher and a coach at the high school, what was going on. He said it was the annual craft and antique show. Along with churches, the schools are where people gather.
These local schools, be they public or parochial, are the workhorses of K-12 education in what city people sometimes call “out-state Missouri.” In urban areas it may be more difficult to create this kind of close-knit community, but it happens. For years Catholic parochial schools have been a stabilizing force in the urban landscape. Almost half the elementary school children who attend St. Louis Catholic Academy live within a two- mile radius of the school.
School levies for the public school and tuitions for the Catholic school may hurt the pocketbook some, but it gives people some “skin in the game,” investment in how the school is doing. Couple this with school boards and parent-teacher groups and these schools draw people away from their television sets and laptops to meet face-to-face with neighbors and plan how to make their community a better place.
Schools can do a lot to involve their local communities. There are also ways public and private schools can work together to improve their community and educate children. Here are a few examples of how schools can cooperate.
Dual Enrollment: Missouri already has a dual enrollment law (Section 167.031 RSMo.), which allows a child to enroll in classes in both a public and a private/parochial school. If a private school does not offer a certain course, say, Spanish, but the public school does, the student can enroll in that Spanish class and then return to the private school for the remainder of the school day. Conversely, a public school student can enroll in a religion class at a Catholic school and then return to the public school. All this is legal; it justtakes planning and cooperation among local school officials.
Virtual Schools: Public and private schools can also cooperate through cyberspace without moving any students around. Missouri law (Section 162.1250 RSMo) allows public school districts to set up their own virtual school. All resident children, including students in non-public schools, are eligible to participate. Is your local public school district offering courses through the Internet? If not, consider discussing the matter with district officials.
Professional Development for Teachers: Public and private school teachers often attend the same professional development conferences at national, state and regional gatherings. Why not encourage more interchange at the local level? Have teachers teach each other, with more conversation and sharing of ideas between public and private school teachers. Meet at the public school one month and the private or parochial school the next month.
Community Foundations: Why not set up a foundation that will raise private donations to help both the local public school and private schools? Oh, yes, public schools get tax money, but the unpopularity of tax increases is squeezing the budgets of public schools. A foundation could supplement the public monies received by public schools (perhaps financing a new computer or science lab). That same foundation could offer financial assistance to students who want to attend a private or parochial school.
Public School Levies: Finally, if the public school district is serving the community, Catholic leaders can support local school levies. This engenders good will and more cooperation. It can also give the public school the resources it needs to better serve all resident school children.