Recently, the director of the COCAbiz program asked me a provocative question: What do schools contribute to the region?
I value that we are a private school with a public purpose. The primary way, of course, that we strive to improve the health of our region is through our students. As I see it, though, Crossroads’s commitment to equity and justice must extend beyond the members of our school community and beyond the borders of our campus if we are truly to be accountable to the common good.
In service of this commitment, last week, I attended the first St. Louis Equity Indicators Stakeholder Engagement Session alongside the Chief of Police; representatives from city government, Forward Through Ferguson, the St. Louis Symphony, and the YWCA; and professors from UMSL and SLU.
Last June, St. Louis was chosen as one of five U.S. cities to receive support from the CUNY Institute for State and Local Governance (ISLG), in partnership with The Rockefeller Foundation and 100 Resilient Cities (100RC), toward development of an “Equality Indicator.”
The Indicator will use data to track progress toward regional equity for targeted groups, “helping decision makers craft more effective policies to assist communities in each city.” This work will be overseen in St. Louis by Patrick Brown, the city’s Chief Resilience Officer, and Cristina Garmendia, the newly hired Equity Indicators Project Manager, who began work just this week.
During the session, we learned about the goals and parameters of the grant program, then turned to consideration of the Ferguson Commission Report, which will serve locally as a foundational document for this work. Though Crossroads isn’t mentioned by name, the report makes plain that schools are vital nodes within our region, central points of connection and exchange.
I focused on the section called Youth at the Center, which emphasizes that: “In thinking about what is best for children and youth, we are, of course, thinking about what is best for the region in the long term, and so the themes that apply throughout this report apply here.”
I considered barriers to achieving the related Calls to Action, which include specific measures to address hunger, create school health centers, reform school discipline, invest in early childhood education, support education innovation, and address school accreditation.
I came away from the session understanding that, often, these barriers don’t work in a linear fashion. Sometimes, removing one might move us closer to several goals. I also saw clearly that current systems are not designed to meet people where they are, and that representatives from underserved populations must continue to participate in transforming those systems.
So, what can schools contribute to the region? Particularly with a mission like ours, particularly with a community like ours, particularly in our city, particularly at this time, I think Crossroads can and must share our experiences as a community working to foster systems that support us all.
By convening with other organizations working toward similar goals, I’m hopeful we can move with deeper knowledge and intention toward a region broadly committed — as we are at Crossroads — to equity and justice.
With great expectations,