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Circus Day Foundation Offers Lessons in Life & Juggling

Yesterday I attended the annual bike swap meet organized by the St. Louis Regional Bike Federation. As always, the event grew ever larger — attracting more vendors and more customers. This year we had entertainment, the St. Louis Arches — a youth circus group that takes classes at the City Museum through the Circus Day Foundation. The foundation’s mission statement:

Circus Day Foundation teaches the art of life through circus education. We work to build character and expand community for youth of all ages, cultures, abilities and backgrounds. Through teaching and performance of circus skills, we help people defy gravity, soar with confidence and leap over social barriers, all at the same time.

They answer the question you may be asking, why circus?

Circus is a performing art that children and adults appreciate and value. Circus Day Foundation uses circus arts to teach and inspire children of all ages and backgrounds. Our performances entertain and thrill audiences of all generations with the ageless delight of the circus.

Even more so than other sport, cultural or artistic activities, circus is not associated with any particular race or gender. Many arts or sports activities have either a gender or race bias. Circus combines both art and sports aspects, involving kids who might not normally consider doing anything artistic and kids who might not generally attempt anything physical. Circus has an across-the-board appeal that other sports and artistic fields do not have.

The life skills we learn, as children, are the tools we take with us into adulthood. If we teach children when they are young to overlook differences and focus on similarities, to focus on working together to fix something rather than abdicating responsibility and blaming instead, those skills could result in a more peaceful future. When you are trying to do a human pyramid, you need to know the technique and the terminology so that you and your partner are speaking the same language physically and verbally. You learn fairly quickly, that to succeed in performing the pyramid, you cannot blame each other if something goes wrong but you must figure out what you can do together to make it work. Whoever you are and wherever you are from, there is some circus skill that you can accomplish because circus is an art made up of a variety of skills.

Circus teaches life’s lessons. Participation requires cooperation, individual and group responsibility and control over mind, body and emotions. Children learn these skills through circus arts and apply them to everyday life. Circus teaches the art of life.

You could see it in the kid’s faces, they were having a really good time all the while working hard and really focusing on each other. We were treated to a wonderful show complete with gymnastics, balancing acts and juggling. Since it was a bike show, they concluded their 40-minute or so performance with bike tricks. Enjoy the show:


For more information, including how to become a sponsor, visit circusday.org


A Job Opening at St. Louis Public Schools Paying $80,000+

Posted on the St. Louis Public Schools website is a job titled, “Executive Director of Board Affairs” and it pays $80K or better. I bet you are thinking that is some good pay? What if I told you your boss would be none other than board president Veronica O’Brien, that pay doesn’t look so good now does it?

Here is a teaser from the job posting:

Position Summary:
The Board of Education of the St. Louis Public Schools is seeking an Executive that will be responsible for managing the daily operations of the Board Affairs Office.

Essential Functions:
1. Reports directly to the Board of Education by way of the president or vice
2. Manage the day-to-day operation of the board office.
3. Act as board liaison with the Superintendent and other staff of the school district.
4. Makes recommendations to the board concerning administrative and school related matters.
5. Act as liaison, when necessary, with the public and fielding questions from the community regarding Board and district business.

You can read the full description on a Word document from the school board site linked above as long as it remains posted, or you can view a PDF here.  In all seriousness, this is a good position although I don’t know that anyone who is actually qualified for the post would want to even apply given the current state of board affairs.


St. Louis’ Schools Need Middle-Class Students

A couple of days ago I did a post about government’s role in shaping the suburbs through federal lending policies, including an excerpt from the excellent book, Cities Without Suburbs, by David Rusk. Today I bring you more from Rusk, this time on education:

In 1966, sociologist James Coleman released his path-breaking study, Equality of Educational Opportunity. Sponsored by the then-U.S. Office of Education, the Coleman Report concluded that the socioeconomic characteristics of a child and of the child’s classmates (measured principally by family income and parental education) were the overwhelming factors that accounted for academic success. Nothing else – expenditures per pupil, pupil-teacher ratios, teacher experience, instructional materials, age of school buildings, etc. – came close.

“The educational resources provided by a child’s fellow students,” Coleman summarized, “are more important for his achievement than are the resources provided by the school board.” So important are fellow students, the report found, that “the social composition of the student body is more highly related to achievement, independent of the student’s own social background, than is any school factor.”

In the four decades since, nothing has changed. There has been no more consistent finding of educational researchers – and no research finding more consistently ignored by most politicians and many educators. They will not challenge the underlying racial and class structure of American society.

I have conducted a dozen such studies myself, charting the dominant impact of socioeconomic status on school results. The most recent is my study of all elementary schools in Madison-Dane County, Wisconsin. The study finds that

  • Pupil socioeconomic status accounts for 64 percent to 77 percent of the school-by-school variation in standardized test results and that
  • Poor children’s test results improve dramatically when surrounded by middle-class classmates. Move a poor child from a neighborhood school where 80 percent of classmates are also poor to a neighborhood school where 80 percent of classmates are middle class would raise the chance of that child’s scoring at a proficient or advanced levels by 30 to 48 percentage points – an enormous improvement.

In other words, where a child lives largely shapes the child’s educational opportunities – not in terms of how much money is being spent per pupil but who the child’s classmates are. Housing policy is school policy.

This is not really earth shattering news but among all the discussions about the St. Louis Public Schools — the performance of the long list of recent Superintendents, divisions on the school board, low test scores, and calls by Mayor Fracis Slay and others for state takeover of the system the idea of the home-life envinronment for the bulk of the school kids has been lost. This is not to say the kids have a bad or abusive home life but one in which perhaps their parents are poorly educated themselves and are working many hours to provide for their family.

The basic argument is this — the St. Louis Public Schools will continue to under-perform regardless of who is in charge as long as the social issues of concentrated poverty, lack of nearby jobs and poor housing remain unchanged. Ballpark Village is not going to change this situation in the neighborhoods. In the past I’ve said something to the effect of we don’t need school age kids — they are a financial drain anyway. Well, I was wrong. We do need kids — lots of middle-class kids.

But how is that possible? Parents are not going to move to the city until the schools improve and the schools are not going to improve until we get more kids. A costly busing system is one avenue but I don’t think that is a good long-term solution. The answer? Consolidation! No, not a city-county merger of municipalities but of school districts.

Between the City of St. Louis and St. Louis County we have 25 school districts. In many less fractured regions of the country, that same area would have 1-3 districts. Of course, large districts can have their issues as well but that is more about leadership. So what to do? Well, I’d probably combine all the small districts that are fully within the I-270 loop (see map of districts) — this includes St. Louis, Riverview Gardens, Jennings, Normandy, Ritenour, University City, Clayton, Ladue, Brentwood, Maplewood-Richmond Heights, Webster Groves, Affton, Bayless, and Hancock Place. A number of districts are mostly within the I-270 loop and could be included as well — Ferguson-Florissant, Pattonville, Kirkwood, Lindbergh and perhaps Mehlville.
Could this happen voluntarily? Probably not, state action would be needed. But, I would argue this is necessary to help the region — the St. Louis Public Schools are acting as a drain on the regions growth but the solution, more middle-class students, is outside the grasp of the St. Louis School Board and the administration. And yes, as long as poor folks are concentrated in the city and older inner-ring suburbs like Wellston we will need some busing to move people around. But as a single district this would be easier to accomplish — less of the “us” vs. “them.”

Another factor is if we had a single school district for the city and most of the county we could eliminate the “I won’t live in the city because of the schools” claims. Of course, some might argue this would drive folks to Illinois, St. Charles County or Jefferson County even faster but I’m not so sure. After the initial shock of it all I think it might go pretty well and then parents would not see the city limits sign as a big barrier. A strong city is good for the region and especially good for St. Louis County, which continues to lose population to surrounding areas. Such a school system consolidation could help both the city and county. Discuss.


St. Louis Board of Elections, the Good and the Not-So Good

December 4, 2006 Education, Politics/Policy 1 Comment

In the two recent elections the St. Louis Board of Elections has done an outstanding job of holding relatively smooth elections with speedy results.  Since this has not always been the case, they deserve some kudos.

But as one of many people curious about who has and has not filed for upcoming seats it is highly frustrating that the only way to know what is happening is to keep checking sites like the Post’s Political Fix, PubDef or ACC.   The sad part is, the old site for the election board did show who had filed!

“What is the big deal?”, you ask.  Well, to those that are perhaps considering running between now and the last day of filing (January 5th) this might be helpful.  After all, you’d think the election board would be in the business of making sure elections are open, not just the insiders.

And what about those two school board positions coming up in April?  Not a mention on their website.  Filing opens in a week on the 12th but their December calendar is completely blank.  The filing for the two school board seats close on the 16th of January, 2007.  Of course, if the state of Missouri takes over the schools this may be a moot point.  Do they know something we don’t?

The St. Louis Board of Election(s) can be found at stlelections.com.


Veronica O’Brien Should Resign from School Board

The St. Louis Public Schools have many issues: low overall test scores, high drop-out rate, deteriorating buildings, high turn over rate for superintendent and a divided school board. But the most immediate problem is that of School Board President Veronica O’Brien. Admittedly, I supported her re-election to the board in 2005. I have few regrets in how I’ve voted over the years but this is certainly one of them. Thankfully I never voted for Nader so you can’t blame me for helping Bush get elected.

As a regular member I don’t think O’Brien was so divisive but perhaps I am wrong there? I’d like to think the two sides of the current board would work to find some common ground to build upon, but as long as O’Brien is around I don’t see how that is even remotely possible. O’Brien is making the whole thing about herself and what she wants — not leading a discussion about problems, coming up with solutions and as a community selecting the best resolution(s).

Ms. O’Brien — your 15 minutes are up. Next!