Jefferson Elementary School is a community school in the heart of St. Louis’ Near North Side neighborhood.
Prior to 1998, as a result of the court ordered public school desegregation program, the approximately 750 school-aged children in the area attended 45 different schools in St. Louis City and 15 schools in St. Louis County. Most of the children in the neighborhood did not attend Jefferson Elementary.
In 1998, McCormack Baron Salazar, working on the Murphy Park HOPE VI revitalization, approached the St. Louis Board of Education about converting Jefferson Elementary School into a neighborhood school for children in the community. A request was also made to change the way the school was administered, so that a new curriculum and innovative approaches to teaching could be introduced. In exchange for the School Board’s participation, McCormack Baron Salazar offered to raise funds to upgrade the school with central air-conditioning, internet infrastructure, computers in every classroom, and an adult computer lab to train neighborhood residents interested in technology-driven employment.
McCormack Baron Salazar was able to convince the same corporations that contributed to the development of Murphy Park to support the reconstitution of Jefferson School as an essential factor in the success of the housing development. Southwestern Bell (now AT&T) made an enormous financial commitment to the school including wiring the entire building for access to the internet, supporting a full-time technician at the school for two years, and underwriting the cost of the University of Missouri’s Center for Technology Innovations in Education to assist with the integration of technology and the curriculum. Contributions from other corporations and foundations exceeded $4 million.
After the reconstitution of the school, the number of children from the neighborhood attending Jefferson School increased tremendously. In the 1997-98 school year, 19% of students came from the surrounding housing developments and the remaining 81% were bussed into the neighborhood. In the 1998-1999 school year, 32% were bussed in and a record 68% children were from the surrounding community. By 2010, nearly 80% of students at Jefferson lived in the surrounding neighborhoods.
The non-profit, Urban Strategies, Inc. partnered with St. Louis Public Schools to ensure that Jefferson had a strong leader who is well-supported. Under Urban Strategies’ guidance, the school established goals to work with community partners, to develop a shared vision for the school, to increase the academic achievement of the children attending Jefferson School, and to implement a site-based budget management program.
Today, children finish their school day at Jefferson Elementary and run across the playground to play baseball in the St. Louis Cardinals Care Redbird Rookie stadium. Other children stay after school to participate in art and dance programs offered by the Center of Creative Arts (COCA). While their children play and learn, parents work at the school’s adult computer lab, learning new job-related skills.
Families in the community now actively choose to enroll their children in Jefferson Elementary, a unique, enriched community-based school.