A farewell note from Jane Donahue
|SLPS Foundation staff and Board of Directors celebrated “Jane Donahue Day” on June 10, 2021, as proclaimed by the City of St. Louis.|
The students of Saint Louis Public Schools have been an integral part of my nearly 20 years in St. Louis. From the very first Vashon high school students I worked with as College Summit leaders back in the early 2000s, to this spring’s graduates who celebrated victories amidst pandemics, to my own daughter and her friends who just beginning their professional lives, one truth remains: SLPS is home to greatness. Last week, as I cleaned up files, and sorted through the ED Talk programs, innovation grant applications, board retreat notes, grant proposals, and even receipts which form the “history” of SLPS Foundation, I felt so grateful. Thanks to YOU, over the last decade, the SLPS Foundation has raised and invested more than $25 million to sustain quality early childhood education, strengthen college and career services, and expand student wellbeing efforts in the District. We’ve incubated some transformational change in the District including new school models and equity efforts.
Along the way, I have been blessed to work with outstanding donors, a dedicated board of volunteers, fantastic staff and District leaders who forge through challenges to do their best for students. It’s been an absolute honor to lead the SLPS Foundation and to see its programs produce enduring results for students and educators.
While I am heartened by progress, I know the work is hardly finished. In fact, the need for a network of champions for the St. Louis Public Schools and its students only gets more urgent. Over the past couple years, my colleagues (both at SLPS and the Foundation) have navigated well-funded and orchestrated campaigns to plant seeds of doubt in the District’s capacity. At their best, these campaigns shine a bright light on where we need to do more, especially for Black and Brown students. At their worst, they distract and deplete quality leaders and threaten the core of public education in St. Louis. After nearly 20 years of working with SLPS students and educators, I am not convinced that weakening and fragmenting the District is the answer. With the growth of school choice in St. Louis City, a racial and socio-economic divide is deepening. Since 2010, charter schools have increased their white population by 12% and decreased their Black population by 20%. Over 90% of SLPS students are considered economically disadvantaged. As we continue to splinter the City into small empires, I worry about the children with the least, as well as our overall civic unity. I wonder: what could we achieve if we worked toward a common goal of a stronger school district and excellence for all? What if we harnessed the energy in the community to ameliorate real issues like Missouri’s unjust school funding formula?
On my last day in the office, the counselor from SLPS’ Early College Academy (ECA) sent me a photo of two of the ECA’s first graduates (now college students) reunited for summer internships in New York City. The SLPS Foundation supported the launch of the ECA, so the timing was good. These two students were already trailblazers in their families: new Americans, first-generation college students, now bold New Yorkers. Their courage to take on new challenges should encourage us all. As I begin my next calling, I will be forever buoyed by SLPS students’ resolve, AND by the care and compassion of this outstanding SLPS Foundation community. Thank you for continuing this critical work!