A Promise To Hold Community Accountable

November 21, 2005
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The “Kalamazoo Promise” is an astounding legacy, provided by anonymous donors. It is a plan that funds the college or higher education of each one of all Kalamazoo Public Schools students after graduation (or portions of it, for those who have not been enrolled in KPS in grades K-12). Investment in education has an economic “domino effect” of limitless potential, as has been emphasized on this page for a dozen years. One way to “pass it forward” and keep such momentum in the district would be for each of those graduates to contribute to a fund for the benefit of those who come 12 years after them.

What sages, these donors. Wise enough to understand that it is only through continued education that the community can continue to thrive, and build the work force and entrepreneurs Kalamazoo and Michigan so desperately need. Wise enough to know that the schools will have to rise to meet the challenge of preparing those students for higher learning. Wise enough to know the community will have to be involved. Astute enough to know that the plan also has the potential to fail, unless all parents and guardians do the job of involved parenting. And perhaps most challenging, they must put prejudice aside.

It has the potential to create a model community.

Clues to the unbundling of such potential are clear in Grand Rapids, and any other urban district of any size. It is a frustrating and dizzying chicken-egg argument given no answer for the lack of community courage and the inability to help all parents understand they have to be involved in a child’s education, or how.

The unbundling, for those not paying attention, began with suburban flight, leaving less affluent families in inner cities while new homes were built on the outskirts and new school districts created. Parents who understood the necessity of their involvement, also took with them the modeling of involvement mentoring opportunities, the learning curve among students and for some, their prejudice. Just 9 percent of Grand Rapids families live below the poverty line, but 79 percent of GRPS students qualify for free or reduced lunches.

The truth is no child can be left behind in an economy to be shaped by far fewer workers as baby boomers continue to retire. “No child left behind” is not just one of President George W. Bush’s “phrases” — it is the truth of the future. GOP-loving parents must begin to learn in this and other communities that it does involve them. It is in their backyard.

If the city is to continue to flourish as an “urban living environment,” those models and learning curves in the schools have to be rebuilt. As they are rebuilt, the schools will again have students staying and more funding, and with that, better facilities and the economic opportunities fueled by such collaboration — partnerships.

The Kalamazoo Promise is a promise to hold that community and the parents of public school students accountable. It has an ever-lasting legacy, whatever happens.    

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