neighborhood needs an outside look | Editorials

When it comes to a new community engagement process, the St. Joseph School District has a tough needle to thread.

The public does not trust the administration or the Board of Education, a fact that becomes evident when incumbents are rejected or when bond proposals lose a lot at the ballot box.

There is a huge need for an outside entity to step in, to see the big picture and to reach consensus. Given that two external entities are funding this engagement initiative, it seems the only rational reason not to move forward would be to accept the status quo.

The current state of our schools is not acceptable. This is not a blow to the teachers. People love their teachers, and those we interviewed have impressed and inspired us.

Currently, Missouri has seven school districts with provisional accreditation, the closest being Kansas City, Hickman Mills, and Gilman City. Saint Joseph is one of 510 fully accredited districts, a group so large that it means little to the general public.

If you choose a marketing campaign, “There are seven that are worse than us” is not the one you would choose. Those considering a move to Saint-Joseph will check out reviews on real estate websites, where the ratings are sometimes less than flattering. One site gave two out of 10 to Benton High School, four of 10 to Lafayette and six of 10 to Central.

“I wish I could put them in a new school,” one commentator said.

Just one number may seem unfair, but those who have lived elsewhere and have a different expectation of school quality are clearly bewildered by what they see here. Those who live in Saint-Joseph should understand this.

If the community engagement campaign can take St. Joseph in a new direction, then this effort deserves public support. The district needs to disengage from the bigger picture without handing over the keys to day-to-day operations or allowing facilitation meetings to function without full transparency.

The district’s facilities planning committee is now on hiatus, a decision that makes sense as it would overlap with the new engagement process. An academic planning committee is also on hold, a decision that at first glance is more difficult to understand, but perhaps it is a nod to the fact that it will take more than new buildings to improve schools.

These are details to be worked out as the process unfolds, not a reason to block community engagement in the first place. Board member Ken Reeder said he opposed the engagement efforts and the outcome seemed “predetermined.”

But in coming to that conclusion now, isn’t Reeder making his own predetermined judgment? Unless you’re happy with the situation, community engagement deserves a chance.

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