Want to see a community that wholeheartedly supports its schools? Then head west on U.S. 80 for 100 miles and stop in Demopolis, AL. A community of just over 7,000 people and a school system of just under 2,300 students.
Some 56 percent of the children in their three schools get free-reduced lunches. Both enrollment and poverty level have been remarkably stable for the last 20 years.
And here is the most telling number. Demographics of their school system almost exactly mirror the community as a whole. The 2010 census shows Demopolis at 50.9 percent black and 47.5 percent white. For the 2017-18 school year, the system is 49.4 percent black and 45.1 percent black.
By comparison, in 2010 Montgomery was 56.6 percent black and 37.3 percent white. But today the school system is 78.5 percent black and 9.4 percent white.
In school year 1997-98, the racial makeup of Demopolis schools was 50.1 percent black and 49.5 percent black. The same numbers for Montgomery were 69.8 percent black and 28.3 percent white.
So while whites have been fleeing Montgomery public schools, they haven’t in Demopolis. Why?
Like Montgomery, Demopolis also has an education foundation—with a $1.2 million endowment. They have 30 donors who contribute at least $25,000 annually and another 42 who give $5,000 each. And this is a community of 7,000 people smack dab in the middle of the Black Belt.
I do not know what the endowment for the Montgomery Education Foundation is. But considering the Montgomery school system is twelve times the size of the one in Demopolis, if ours did what theirs does, the endowment should be more than $14 million.
Since I believe most wheels have been invented, a wise investment of time for Montgomery leaders would be a trip to Demopolis to learn more about their community support and their schools.
Another great learning experience would be a trip to Cincinnati to study their network of 50+ community-centered schools.
They figured out years ago about the 88 percent and 12 percent. And they have a great number of community partners helping them to deal with the “whole” child, instead of just test scores.
It’s 1,000 miles roundtrip from Montgomery to Cincinnati. I’ve driven it five times to learn more about what they are doing. And several years ago, I worked with Auburn University to bring four people from Cincinnati to AUM for a one-day workshop. About 75 people attended, some from as far away as Mobile and Dothan. But if anyone was there from Montgomery, I can’t remember them.
Interesting enough, when this effort began, their executive Darlene Kamine, told me that David Mathews’ book, Is There A Public for Public Schools? was basically their road map.
They have certainly adopted the approach of school reform as community building.
There was once a time when communities and schools were virtually one and the same. Now not so much. Cincinnati is shifting this paradigm.
Montgomery could to.
But someone has to step up to the plate. However, first we need to listen to each other—instead of shouting at each other.
In Texas the organization, Texas Pastors For Children, is filling such a role. Begun five years ago in Fort Worth by Rev. Charlie Johnson, there are now more than 1,000 churches in the Lone Star state working with local schools.
The interesting part. Charlie grew up in Monroe County, AL. We are friends. He would love to come to Montgomery and work with ministers.
There are about 135 churches in Montgomery. What if just 25 of them took on the challenge of working with our highest poverty schools?
We do not have to have the circus in Montgomery that we do now. But we can’t continue to have so many people wanting to be the ringmaster, insisting that their way is the only way.
The choice is ours and ours alone.