Saving Dunbar Elementary

Students from the Dunbar Panthers cheer squad march down Garrison Ave. Fri. Apr. !2, 2019 for a parade and rally through the JeffVanderlou neighborhood. The purpose of the gathering was to ask residents for support by way of enrollment to prevent the historic school from being forced to close.

Photo by Wiley Price / St. Louis American

We live in a moment of bitter division, when calls for change often come from far outside structures of power in the form of protest – often with demands calculated without any informed sense of what is possible. Protest remains necessary, and the insistence on what is equitable yet practically impossible may change, over time, what is possible. But we have a clear and pressing need, in the immediate moment and near future, for more engagement with authority informed by real practical obstacles and with a strategy to overcome them. Further, we need to get better at identifying allies within power structures and taking measured risks to work cooperatively with agents within the systems we aim to change.

That is why we applaud the campaign that community advocates for Dunbar Elementary School are waging alongside the leadership of Saint Louis Public Schools to keep open the historic school, which had been considered for closure. Built in 1912, Dunbar looms as an only partly used giant in the Jeff-Vander-Lou Neighborhood and one of the struggling neighborhood’s strongest anchors. According to the district, closing Dunbar was considered based on decreasing enrollment, housing trends (the number of kids predicted to be in the neighborhood next year and in the near future) and academic performance.

Dunbar and three other schools that had been considered for closure will remain open for the 2019-2020 school year. “But the problems still remain,” a district spokesperson told us, “so there has been a big push from Central Office, the school and the surrounding community to try to boost enrollment.” Whether this effort succeeds, ultimately, is up to the community now, given the district’s extended support. If enough families in the neighborhood see enough value to keeping the school open and enroll their students at Dunbar, rather than at a charter or county school, then Dunbar should remain open. We respect each family’s responsibility to decide what is best for their children. Whatever the outcome, this is a dignified and respectful attempt for the community and district to work together in seeking a solution. We hope to see more collaboration for constructive, immediate change in the region.

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