Pattonville Community Schools, St. Louis County, Missouri
The Pattonville school district offers an example of the effective use of public engagement at the district level. A "culture of engagement" infuses the way this district approaches the education of its children, the decisions that impact their achievement, and the ongoing relationships between the district, its employees, parents, and members of the Pattonville community. The presentation about Pattonville is followed by discussions among two parents, an administrator, and a teacher and among a group of experienced public engagement practitioners.
In the mid-1980s, the Pattonville Community Schools, a suburban district just outside St. Louis, confronted a demographic reality facing many school systems today. The percentage of households with school-age children had sharply declined, and local bond issues, previously passed with enthusiastic majorities, had begun to fail.
When Roger Clough became Pattonville's superintendent in 1985, he made a conscious decision to engage community members, and particularly senior citizens, as resources for the district. Instead of being the problem, citizens and seniors were seen as part of the solution. This strategic direction has paid significant dividends over the last fifteen years.
Today, community members and parents volunteer in each of Pattonville's eleven schools and serve on all of the district's task forces and advisory committees. They play important roles in key decisions about the district - from adding a character-values program to the curriculum to plotting reorganization plans. Parents, senior citizens, and students also serve on school councils and share responsibility for budgeting and other policy matters. Recent bond issues have passed successfully. A new community education center offers a wide array of services and programs for seniors as well as students.
Pattonville has made a special effort to engage the parents of the nearly 1,100 students voluntarily bused to its schools from center-city St. Louis. PTA meetings and parent-teacher conferences are regularly held in downtown St. Louis, and the school board holds regular meetings in all the neighborhoods served by the district. This effort is one of the reasons students living outside the district graduate at rates similar to the rest of Pattonville students.
Pattonville has been recognized with a Magna Award from the National Association of School Boards. But despite its successes to date, Pattonville still faces serious challenges. A proposed expansion of the St. Louis airport threatens to seize one-fifth of the homes in the district. State subsidies for busing have come under attack. And while better than the national average, student test scores have been flat for the last five years. Nevertheless, Patton-ville remains optimistic. Says Roger Clough, "We have opportunities here, not problems."