Gloria Evans Nolan: A moment of truth in St. Louis
Gloria Evans Noland is a parent and activist in St. Louis, and she has some powerful stories to tell about the forces of ed reform in that community. In this post, she talks about a moment of disillusionment.
Given the opportunity to become involved in pushing for better education, she jumped at the chance.
At that time I learned about a new program, the Power Building Academy at the recently formed non-profit WEPOWER, where I would have an opportunity to engage with like-minded people who wanted to implement policy changes that would elevate our marginalized community. My only question was, “Where do I sign?”
I loved everything about the experience! Sixteen black women met monthly over a weekend at the beautiful, newly built Deaconess Center. Stipends, childcare, meals and snacks were provided at every meeting. The curriculum was thoughtfully crafted and the dialogue was engaging and stimulating. I left those weekends feeling inspired. After unpacking the history of education in our country, state and then the city of St. Louis, we were fired up for change. After talking to community members, we launched into our campaign — Better Budgets, Better Schools — calling for budget transparency in the district of SLPS, which we were going to get by any means necessary. We learned tactics of organizing and came to understand that making change is not always nice, so we pushed on and disrupted the district with our policy demands. My proudest moment was rallying a group of more than 50 parents and community members to attend a school board meeting where we held up public comments and demanded a meeting with board members to share our platform. As a result, a committee on budgeting was formed. I was thrilled.
She continued to rise through the ranks, eventually joining WEPOWER. But elation soon took a hit from some alarming moments like this one:
Over time, however, I began to wonder if our efforts were actually in service of St. Louis Public School District. At times I felt that initiatives went beyond holding the district accountable and moved into undermining the district at every turn. My worries crystallized following a lunch meeting at one of those artsy places without the prices on the menu, with one of our funders, Mr. Eric Scroggins of the Opportunity Trust. I spoke about the district and what I thought would be effective techniques to turn things around, such as smaller class sizes, highly paid certified teachers, wrap around services and literacy initiatives. Mr. Scroggins simply looked at me and replied, “That won’t work. We have to burn it down.” I didn’t want to burn it down. After all, my children were in there.