Although Sikeston's staggering number of welfare programs (and welfare recipients) is a major factor in the general decline of our once proud and prosperous community, another significant factor is the growing loss of confidence in our public school system. This is evident by the growing number of school age children (ages 5-18) attending private schools, home schools or dropping out of school at age 16. If you talk to parents who do not choose the public schools for their children, you typically hear three reasons - lack of safety, brighter children being held back educationally by children who either can't or don't want to excel and the desire for religion classes. Although unspoken, there are many who use alternative schools as a status symbol.
Sikeston's public school teachers and our facilities are as good as you will find anywhere in the state. So what's the problem?
Our school board needs to develop programs which will allow the bright children to learn more at a faster pace and will allow the slower children to learn at their own pace. Stop making excuses based upon what the state won't allow and figure out how to do it within the framework of what is allowed. "Can't" never accomplishes anything. Stop bowing to pressure to make changes which are not truly good for the school, such as the elimination of the elementary accelerated program. The only problem with that program is that it was not big enough for all the students who needed it.
Eliminating it sent many kids to the private schools. Build one elementary school building for all the children (except Morehouse) so that we can end the class war associated with who goes to what school. That move alone would save the school hundreds of thousands of dollars each year by eliminating duplication of services at the individual schools.
As for safety, kick the kids who don't want to learn and cause problems out of school and stop worrying about being sued. You may or may not get sued. If you do, the problem child will be out of the classroom while the lawsuit is being fought and the other kids can learn in safety. Problem children are rarely absent from school because their parents don't want them at home with them all day. You start kicking them out and their parents will adjust their kids' attitudes so they (parents) can go back to the couch watching TV and waiting for the mailman to bring "the check." Every child should feel as safe at school as they do in their own home.
Religion is taught less than one hour each day at the religious schools, and have you ever wondered what class instruction they have to skip in order to teach it? If religion is truly that important to you, take your children to Sunday school and church on Sundays and Wednesdays. Turn off the TV for an hour each night and spend some quality time with your children reading the Bible. Stop worrying about the status symbol issue. You are teaching your children to run away from problems instead of solving them and are not preparing them for life after school where they will have to deal with people of all kinds.
The health and reputation of the public school system is perhaps the single most significant factor in attracting new, working, self-supporting families to our community.
Businesses (and here I am referring to "white collar" businesses that pay decent wages, as opposed to fast food and retail chain businesses) searching for a community in which to locate, look for a community with a school system that will help them attract well educated, hard working families to run their businesses. Well educated people who work hard to earn their living without assistance from the government and who want to be a driving force in their community (i.e. people who could be a real asset to Sikeston) want a good, free public school system for their children and will choose to live where they can get it.
What message do we send to our school age children and their families and to outsiders considering relocating here, when we elect board members and hire teachers and superintendents who feel the best education for their children is not offered by the school system they represent and work for?
Statistically, the children who attend schools outside the public school system tend to be better students academically and behaviorally. They cost less to educate, which is why private schools are able to exist without government funding.
Their absence significantly reduces the quality of the remaining public school students and the public school's funding, which, in turn, induces more of the bright and well-behaved students to flee the public schools. The cycle continues until the school system collapses under the strain of reduced government funding and increased per-child costs associated with problem students. This is what happened to the schools in St. Louis and Kansas City. When the public school system collapses, so does the town. Look at all the little towns around Sikeston that used to have public schools but do not now. You don't find many children in those towns.
The public school system is an integral part of our community. Support it by sending your children there. If changes need to be made in the pubic schools, make them from within. If not, Sikeston will become another retirement community where you only get to see your children and grandchildren on a few holidays each year.
Name withheld by request