Official Blog of the Education Exchange Corps

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Letter from Our Chief Financial Officer Sam Golembieski

Dear Friends and Family,

                Upon returning to St. Louis one year ago, I got involved with the Education Exchange Corps – a locally-based, non-profit service organization dedicated to offering educational opportunities to at-risk children.  As a volunteer teacher during the organization’s Summer Academy, I enjoyed the spectacular opportunity to lead lesson plans that encouraged holistic learning of math, science and language arts in a more interactive environment.

Sam at our 2013 Summer Academy

         Currently, the program aims to serve children primarily from the St. Louis Public School District.  For those of you unfamiliar with the state of the SLPS, the Missouri State Board of Education ended its accreditation of the district in March 2007.  The district is now provisionally accredited as of October 2012, but that accreditation status may not last long.  This represents only one of the most recent blows to the district – a district that once achieved peak enrollment of 115,543 students in 1967.  Enrollment during the 2010-11 school year was 23,576, a significant decrease from the 35,361 students enrolled as recently as 2006-07.  These metrics paint a sad portrait of a struggling district that finds it increasingly difficult to provide quality educational opportunities to its most important stakeholders: the children.

Comparatively, I was fortunate to attend, and later work with, the School District of Clayton, which serves a municipality just a few miles from St. Louis city.  At first I was admittedly surprised (and even confused) by the notable achievement gap in the children’s academic performance across school districts.  Even within the Summer Academy, the disparity between children in the same grade levels was discouraging and profound.

Since last summer I’ve assumed both the Director of the Summer Academy and Chief Financial Officer roles.  This is why I write you today.  Our organization offers the aforementioned Summer Academy, as well as a Teaching Assistant Program during the regular school year.  The Summer Academy aims to provide children with additional educational opportunities they do not normally receive during the school year.  The Teaching Assistant Program allows college students and other volunteers to select one of our available classrooms during the regular school year in which assistants may work with the class as a whole, small groups of students, or one-on-one with children in need of the attention. The teacher and teaching assistant work together to develop the strategy and scheduling of the placement based on the abilities of the volunteer and students and the availability of the volunteer and teacher.  These programs are equally important and require significant time, effort and resources from all involved parties (e.g. volunteers, program administrators, teachers, SLPS administration, etc.).

While the EEC is still in relative infancy, we aim to expand the size, scope and abilities of our organization and the opportunities/programs we provide our children.  However, to do so requires us to raise funds, hopefully with your support.  Currently our primary source of fundraising is accessible through our website at  If monetary donations may prove too expensive, we would appreciate any “in-kind” donations, such as your time, services, children’s books or other classroom materials.  Likewise, we understand if you choose not to participate with our organization and thank you for your time and consideration.

To learn more about the Education Exchange Corps, please feel free to visit our website at  Further, please feel free to contact me directly at to discuss this request for donations or other questions further.

The EEC is a public charity exempt from tax under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and therefore cannot provide you with any goods or services in exchange for your non-refundable contribution. Accordingly, your contribution is tax deductible to the full extent allowed by law. We recommend that you consult your tax advisor for questions unique to your own circumstances.


Sam Golembieski
Chief Financial Officer
Education Exchange Corps
(408) 409-9242 (mobile)

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

St. Louis May Only Have Three More Years to Live

24.6 out of 100. 

That's the St. Louis city school district's grade on a new state scale designed to better measure how well a school district is doing.

Yes, it is possible to get a perfect 100. And yes, a school district, Brentwood, did just that. Other school districts were able to score quite highly too.

But not the school district serving our city.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the two school districts in St. Louis County (the city is not a part of the county) that lost accreditation, allowing the students in those two districts to attend school elsewhere. One of those two districts scored a 28.6/100.

That's four points higher than the currently provisionally accredited city school district. To be at least provisionally accredited, a school must score a 50/100 or higher.

Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education officials claim that the city schools won't see a change in their accreditation status for at least three years.

If nothing changes, that's exactly how long the City of St. Louis has to live.

If nothing gets better, in three years every child in St. Louis City will be able to transfer to an accredited school district. The city schools will have to pay tuition and some busing costs. And those parents who do the work to have their kids transferred to a different school district will likely be those parents already most involved in their kids' lives.
The city schools will then serve a student body that, overall, has less support or resources at home, and the district will have to do its job with a lot less money.

Without some sort of massive turn-around plan for the city schools, that will be the end of the district. Today, the two unaccredited St. Louis County districts both find themselves in unsustainable financial circumstances.

In three years, the city schools will start to get worse, not better. Those kids who cannot transfer will leave school with even worse educations. With each passing year, the number of kids in the city schools will shrink along with the amount of money the district has until both evaporate.

No more kids in city schools. No more city school district. City residents will no longer even have the hope that the next year might be better for their kids. Maybe some families will stay or even move to the city to take advantage of the busing program, but how long do you think businesses and residents will stick around in a city without a school district where their kids have to get up at an ungodly hour to make it onto their buses? And how long will there even be money for the buses?

Our city cannot wait any longer. The superintendent for the district, Dr. Kelvin Adams, promised that next year's scores would be better. Is our city willing to make that promise too?

The clock is ticking.

Elad Gross is the President and Chief Executive Officer of the Education Exchange Corps.

Friday, August 16, 2013

You Don't Need to Be a Superhero to Block Bullets

I know a kid who lives seconds away from where this teenager was shot last night
She saw the aftermath, emergency services. As far as she could tell, the teen was dead. He's not.

This isn't the first time one of my kids has been in the middle of chaos on the streets of St. Louis, and it probably won't be the last. These kids, who have no choice but to witness violence and death, go right back to school the next day.
That's just life. Some kids get shot. Those who survive can talk about it with their buddies at lunch. Or maybe they just won't talk about it at all. And those kids who are more likely to be exposed to such violence go to schools that can barely manage to educate half their students.

Add something else to the growing list of challenges schools and families have to deal with to give children a chance.

Those on the "outside" could just ignore these problems. We could relegate our involvement to reading five-sentence news articles about a shooting, pausing for a moment to take another sip of coffee, and then turn to the sports section to read about the Cardinals' latest extra-inning heroics.

This won't happen in my neighborhood, to my kids. 

                    But this is our city. These are our kids. This is our future.

I'm not a crime fighter anyway!

                    Maybe you don't have a cape or a mask, but you can fight crime. You can fight the brutal effect it has on the minds of its witnesses. You can give a person a reason not to give up and turn to crime. You can give a kid who thinks school is dumb a reason to come back the next day, a reason to want to do more than turn into the next unnamed shooter in a Post-Dispatch article.

How? You can volunteer with a bunch of different organizations in St. Louis. I know of a great one looking for volunteers right now.
And being busy doesn't mean you can't volunteer. You can meet with a kid on a weekend, talk about life, help them out with schoolwork. You can talk to kids on the phone or on Twitter. You can be a kid's person to talk to when no one else seems to understand.

But what we can't do is just sit there and wait idly for the next kid to get shot down on a street. Not for the sake of that child or the others who have to pass by his bleeding body on the way home.

Elad Gross is the President and Chief Executive Officer of the Education Exchange Corps.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

A Historic Moment for St. Louis: Student Transfers Must Only Be the Beginning

This year, some students from the Normandy School District and Riverview Gardens School District will be attending schools in other districts in the region. Why? Because these two school districts are performing poorly and Missouri law allows children in such districts to transfer.

Reactions in Missouri have been mixed. Some receiving districts are willing to accept transfer students with open arms. Other responses have demonstrated that fear--whether it be racism, or classism, or some other stereotype-based prejudice--still thrives in some St. Louis households. (The Normandy School District is 97% black with an estimated median income of $22,000. The Riverview Gardens School District is also 97% black with an estimated median income of $34,000.)

Some folks are hailing the transfers as an opportunity for kids to escape failing districts. But Normandy and Riverview Gardens have to foot the bill for their former students who are transferring. While some children attend different schools, the districts they leave behind will lose a combined $30 million, representing a huge chunk of their budgets. In 2012, the districts each spent about $50 million in "current expenditures." If the budgets remain the same this year, both districts will have to educate their remaining students with 30% less money. There will be about 25% less kids, but don't forget these districts weren't doing too well to start with. Normandy is not expected to be able to fund the transfer program for the entirety of this school year without help.

So now these two districts will be striving to become accredited once again with less resources. These school districts, which are being asked not only to teach kids, but to deal with the increasing challenges children face at home, are expected to find a way to do more with less.

Maybe the transfer system is the way to go. Hopefully those who transfer will receive better educations. Thankfully, this whole situation has put the state of St. Louis education into the spotlight. But in the meantime, while the region tries to figure out just what to do to give every child a chance, what happens to those thousands of children still going to school in these failed districts?

St. Louis ignored its education crisis for too long, and now, with the crisis finally affecting other school districts, we cannot be timid. We need systemic and lasting change that embraces the truth: When a child in a different district, who lives a completely different life miles away from me, suffers, we all suffer. When a child's hopes to be a scientist or a fireman or a poet are dashed in elementary school because she cannot read, we all are worse off. We cannot hide behind the artificial walls of a school district.

And we cannot afford to wait. Those kids still in Normandy and Riverview Gardens and other struggling areas of St. Louis cannot afford to wait. Together, we can provide kids with better opportunities and mentorship and hope. St. Louis can succeed.

The district system has allowed some to receive opportunities while others were left out. We cannot allow it to do so any longer. And we won't if we finally accept that our children will grow up in the world that our schools create today, and that the world our schools are creating isn't good enough.

Elad Gross is the President and Chief Executive Officer of the Education Exchange Corps.