Tag: Education in the City

Transforming Neighborhoods by Transforming Public Schools

Transforming Neighborhoods by Transforming Public Schools

Transforming Neighborhoods by Transforming Public Schools

Carolyn Curtis, May 2011

Despite our history of antagonism toward public schools, especially as a cultural darkness seems to have settled on them, it’s intriguing to wonder: what if Christians flooded public schools with practical help? What if Christians became more willing to enroll their children in public schools? And what if the lines between public and private educations began to blur?

Such “what ifs” describe a continuum of thinking and action in a growing number of Presbyterian churches. ByFaith spoke to laypeople and pastors in Georgia, Indiana, Tennessee, Florida, and New York, asking what’s wrong with public schools, can we fix them (or even make a dent), and why should we consider supporting them now after so many years of building our own school systems that are safer, more academically sound, and biblically based?

Their answers may surprise you.

Some privately admit that helping public schools is the right thing, but they would never enroll their children in one. Others cite success stories of evangelism, discipleship, tutoring, and role modeling opportunities resulting from their personal involvement—factors that energize them to volunteer again. Some become involved but feel overwhelmed by what they describe as the cultural darkness, although they may stay with the effort because of the huge need. Others plow forward, convinced that engaging the public school community is part of God’s call.

An encouraging number told byFaith that they experience great personal joy in helping public schools. They see more reasons to rejoice, fewer reasons to grumble. They are tired of finger pointing, eager to serve. They are rewarded with a softening of their attitudes toward what they still may perceive as the sorry state of America’s public schools, because they see specific ways they are making a difference in lives of students, faculty, families, even the physical campus where they volunteer. These people see God at work in that environment, and they feel hope.

Transforming our communities

Many have caught the vision of leaders such as Drue Warner, director of Live, Work and Play Ministries at Atlanta’s Perimeter Church (PCA), who notes that churches have become more externally focused in the last decade. “We may have cared about our communities evangelistically, but we haven’t cared holistically about the needs of our communities. If we want to see God do a work of transformation in our communities, it really starts by building relationships with families, because there’s a lot of breakdown in families. And one of the best places to build a relationship with families is in our public schools. They’re the hubs of our communities.”

Warner recalls Christians’ earlier efforts to influence public schools, and “when it became obvious that we were not allowed to [lead with the gospel], we got mad and said, ‘Well, we’re going home.’ I think churches now have a perspective that is accurate, one that says, ‘You know what? We can preach the gospel in the public schools, and the way we’re going to do that is through our lives, by allowing teachers, students, families, and administrators to experience the love of Christ through our actions, with a goal of provoking them to ask questions, provoking them to curiosity.’ Once that happens, you can talk about whatever you want.”

Adds Warner: “The schools see through experience that the church is not here with an ulterior motive—our ultimate motive is to love, to serve, to bless. As they receive that, as they experience that, as they begin to trust us, to trust our hearts and motivation—they become very open and transparent. If we have a message of hope, they’re willing to listen.”

Warner shares an anecdote of how he found incentive after Atlanta’s large Perimeter Church had been casting a vision for members to invest themselves in public schools. He admits “though my heart wasn’t really in it, I felt like I needed to try this.”

He walked into a school, told administrators he lived in the community and was on staff at a church that encouraged members to volunteer at public schools. “Within half an hour they had me connected with a first-grade boy who didn’t have a dad at home. They said, ‘If you’ll come once a week and meet with him for 30 minutes over lunch, it would make a major difference in this boy’s life.’ I strolled out of there with a whole new view.”

The experience was so beneficial to both the pastor and the boy that Warner and his wife feel compelled to enroll their daughter in public school, even though—with Warner on staff—the family would have a scholarship to Perimeter Christian School.

“We may differ on whether public education is redeemable, but there is no doubt that the families and faculty who live and work there are objects of the Savior’s redemptive love.”

Would they be throwing their daughter to the wolves? No, says Warner. In addition to a commitment to have direct impact on what she learns by being more involved in her public education, the Warners have made peace with the realization that it’s their job as parents to teach her the Bible. They characterize the education and environment at Perimeter Christian School as “great,” but think the decision for public schooling is best for their family because of the intentionality with which they will be involved in their daughter’s academics, plus knowing that giving her a biblical worldview and kingdom perspective is their responsibility.

“Waiting for ‘Superman’”

A critically acclaimed documentary film entitled Waiting for ‘Superman’ was released in fall of 2010. The film analyzed failures of American public education by following several students through the system. Conservative critics praised the film, despite the director’s liberal stance, saying it added useful information and ideas to the debate.

Members of Indianapolis’s Redeemer Presbyterian (PCA) several years ago gave up waiting for Superman—caped or otherwise—and began a deliberate effort to rejuvenate the city’s public school system. Pastor Jason Dorsey, his wife, and four children lead by example.

Some, like the Dorseys, enrolled their children in Indianapolis Public Schools. Others did their part to reverse the trend of white flight/socio-economic flight by selling suburban homes and moving close to the church’s urban location, making it easier to volunteer and—just as important—to care about the schools which became their neighbors.

Dorsey is part of a grassroots partnership of educators, civic leaders, and neighbors called IPS Renewal, which counts among its goals the recruiting of gifted teachers, administrators, and principals, and a reversal of suburban flight—and an end to socioeconomic/ethnic isolation—due to the quality of inner-city schools.

In addition to Jesus calling His followers to be salt and light in the world—not retreating from it—Dorsey cites the trumpet call to service described in Isaiah 58, adding that public schools need rigorous Christian engagement. “Public schools are the frontlines of social problems facing our cities.”

He volunteers on Thursdays for lunch duty at a high school and coaches the junior varsity baseball team. His message to the public school system, its students and families: “In your poverty, in your suffering the wounds of a broken family, in the absence of male role models, I stand with you.”

Dorsey has warnings. “It is a false belief to assume that public schools can’t provide our children with top-notch educations. Our four children are receiving rigorous, holistic educations in IPS.

“And Christian parents must remember that sending one’s child to a Christian school will not make that child a Christian; only God’s regenerating power will do that.”

Helping a struggling system

Individual feedback from volunteers in public schools is a mishmash of joys, concerns, surprising blessings, and discouraging letdowns. Some report that the entire emotional spectrum occurs in one day of washing windows for a school or tutoring children or helping teachers or delivering basic supplies such as pencils that, without donations, educators would pay for out of their pockets. As a result, some volunteers retreat from the effort. Others plow forward, returning to public school campuses day after day, certain that God called them to this environment.

Many volunteers are committed to activities such as tutoring, even stopping by a school on their way to work or during their noon hour to read to a classroom of rowdy students while a flustered teacher prepares another lesson or simply catches his or her breath.

“Hands-on is our best method of helping a struggling system,” explains Kim Blankenship, who works at Second Presbyterian (EPC) of Memphis. “Believers are called to be the hands and feet of Christ.”

Blankenship tells a familiar story among churches who partner with schools. Sandy Willson, senior minister, asked the Memphis school superintendent a question: “What can we as a church do to help?” The need was obvious; an overwhelming majority of the city’s students qualified for free lunches, an indicator of poverty, and graduation rates were among the nation’s lowest. The superintendent answered, “We’d love your help!” and recommended joining the Adopt-A-School program.

So Second Presbyterian began what Blankenship describes as a partnership with neighboring Berclair Elementary, where the need was great.

“A lot of our neighbors are in public schools … people we are called to love … and an awful lot of people are essentially dying in those public schools.”

She shares examples of educators who became so frustrated they had to scream to control their classrooms. Contributing factors, says Blankenship, were overcrowded classrooms that are underresourced and other behavior issues that are exhibited in the students.

“Little structured discipline exists in our public schools. Many of these children come from stressful home lives which carries over into misbehaving at school. Teachers deal with this by themselves all day, so when we come in we provide a different approach—we come to assist the teacher and love the children. Church volunteers provide a calming presence as soon as we enter, perhaps because we are someone other than the teacher or because the kids sense something special about the hearts of these Christ-centered volunteers.”

Among positive outcomes: Berclair Elementary now has higher teacher retention rates. The school passed its required standardized testing. Parent involvement has increased in activities such as cleaning up the school grounds. Adds Blankenship: “Teachers trust church volunteers enough to allow us access to all parts of life at Berclair, even to the extent of adding a desk in a classroom for loyal volunteers. Berclair is a positive and happy place to be, because we see the work of Christ being done and we see changes.”

Softening our attitudes

Leaders provide guidance about being realistic and softening our attitudes. Ray Cortese leads Seven Rivers Presbyterian Church in Lecanto, Florida. Warns Cortese: “I don’t think we need to soften our opinion of the limitations of any education that fails to recognize the heart of all truth—the reality of God. We do need to engage, though.

“Jesus associated with those far from God (tax collectors and prostitutes) much to the chagrin of the religious right of His day. He came to seek and to save the lost. Seeking connotes actively going to where the lost are. Those ‘lost’ in our communities are in public schools. If we are not there as teachers, coaches, mentors, etc., then we are not very wise seekers. We may differ on whether public education is redeemable, but there is no doubt that the families and faculty who live and work there are objects of the Savior’s redemptive love.”

Seven Rivers Church asked a member, a public school principal, if he would welcome workers onto his campus. His enthusiastic answer led to a church partnership with the school. The experience was so validating to the principal that he expressed his joy—tearfully—at an event, saying “My two worlds are finally coming together.”

Hearing this, member Wendy Busk realized that the principal “saw that his calling to education was fully embraced by his church—that we are ‘for’ him, and it was healing.”

Tim Keller, pastor of Manhattan’s Redeemer Church, makes the case that Jeremiah 29:7 “tells us to seek the peace and shalom of the whole city.” Keller adds: “A lot of our neighbors are in public schools … people we are called to love … and an awful lot of people are essentially dying in those public schools.” Keller points out that many kids leave a flawed public school system only to land back in poverty, incapable of getting into college or the job market.

“You can pick them up off the streets 30 years later and help them at the soup kitchen and feel really good about yourself, but if you’d actually made the schools better they might never have landed on the streets. Pragmatically, not even theologically, [helping public schools] is a way to help your community so that it doesn’t need to spend as much money on other social services later.”

“I love Christian schools,” Keller says. “I think they’re competition for public schools in a good way. Just like starting a new church is one of the best ways of renewing the older churches.

But if Christians withdraw; if we tell the rest of the world, we really don’t want to have anything to do with you, if we take that attitude about the public schools, then we’re abandoning the common good.”

Carolyn Curtis is an author, editor, and speaker living in Fort Worth, Texas.

Article originally posted by “byfaith Magazine”  at http://byfaithonline.com

Rethinking Race and Opportunity in the City

Rethinking Race and Opportunity in the City


By Gordon Zubrod, MD

America has long been known as the land of opportunity, but as I learn more about our city—and I think it’s true of many places in our country—I am finding that opportunity is far from equal.

I hadn’t intended to write this article, but as I began to learn about our city and the challenges it faces, what I found disturbed me so much that I couldn’t NOT talk about it to other people.

I am a family physician here in York and most of my patients live in York City.  In addition to seeing patients, I teach doctors who have just graduated from medical school and are specializing in family medicine.  One of my responsibilities in training family doctors is teaching community medicine—all the things that happen outside of the office that influence our patients’ health and all the people outside the office doctors need to partner with to care well for our patients.  As part of that job I began to learn about our city, its strengths and problems, and all the people who care about it.  The other thing that gave me an interest in and love for our city was my involvement in a new church that is starting downtown, City Church.  We meet at the YMCA and began meeting for worship in September of this year.  I am writing this article because I hope that as you hear some of the facts and stories about our city, you will care about it too and begin to ask, “How can I be a part of the answers?”

Let me begin with the numbers because I think you, like me, will be disturbed by them.

York City School District

Surrounding Communities

Drop Out Rate



% Qualifying for free school lunch



Single Parent Homes



Planning to attend college



% Minorities



*Statistics taken from the York Counts Indicators published in 2006 and 2009

Pretty disturbing how different York City schools are from all the surrounding school districts.  Ten times as many students don’t graduate.  The large number qualifying for free school lunches goes along with a high rate of poverty in the city.  Half of city kids are raised largely by a single parent, usually their mother.   Pretty striking as well is how segregated the school districts are.  How is it that minorities end up at the school district where they are least likely to succeed?

The picture that I’m left with is that a child who shows up to a city school in kindergarten has a good chance of not graduating.  If they do graduate, it’s a toss-up whether they are even considering college (Note that we don’t have a way to measure who actually ends up going to college, so this number is based on the plans of students at the time of graduation, and the number is probably smaller who actually attend college).  Most likely that child will end up living near the poverty line, and there’s a good chance that the women will end up raising their children alone.  On the other hand, a child showing up to kindergarten at a suburban school has vastly more opportunities to graduate, go to college and get a good paying job.  That difference has nothing to do with anything those children have done prior to showing up to school that day.  Somehow, the system has ensured that the poor child without prospects is a minority and relatively the well off child facing greater opportunities for academic and work success is white.  Something’s wrong.  How can this be?

I need to stop here and clarify some things.  I am not saying that the reason for the difference is the school district.  I’ve had a chance to work with a number of folks in the City school district, and I’ve seen a lot of dedicated folks who are committed to seeing these kids succeed.  I’m convinced that every other school district in our county would struggle as well if they faced the same concentration of poverty, students with limited English proficiency and the high rate of broken homes.  Secondly, I need to say that there are some determined inner-city kids who overcome the odds, do great in school and go on to break out of the cycle.  It’s just that the cards are stacked against them.

The reality of these statistics and the limited opportunity that they represent for many in the city was brought home to me personally through a patient of mine.  He’s a black male in his twenties.  He was a good football player in high school.  He got into drug dealing, was arrested and spent some time in jail.  Now he is trying to stay clean, but no one wants to hire him because of his criminal record.  Each time he’s come to my office, I am struck that he is an excellent communicator and has exceptional people skills—someone whom I would have thought could easily get a job.  He doesn’t have a car, so he has a limited area in which to look for jobs.  He can’t make his rent or pay his phone bill, let alone think of going to school for more training.  How is he not going to go back to drug dealing?  What other opportunities does he have?

Sadly, my patient is not alone.  One in 8 African-American males between ages 25-29 in the U.S. are currently incarcerated, according to the U.S. Department of Justice Prison and Jail Inmate statistics.  That compares with 1 in 60 for Caucasian males in that age bracket.  Could a lot of these men be finding that our system really doesn’t give them a chance to make a decent, clean living?  I am not saying that turning to crime is justified; I am saying that we should be slow to judge because most of us that are making a decent living grew up in a world of opportunity very different from the world my patient grew up in.  Where would we be if we had faced the challenges he daily faces?

I find myself searching for explanations—why the segregation, why the little opportunity?  I grew up in a white, well off, conservative community.  Conservatives are quick to point to personal irresponsibility as the cause of poverty and broken families.  When I look at individual lives, I frequently do see some bad decisions that contribute to this cycle—skipping school, getting involved in drugs or gangs, teenage pregnancy, choosing not to get married.  Liberals, on the other hand, tend to blame social injustice for the ills in the city, while sometimes underemphasizing the importance of personal responsibility.  When I see the dense clustering of minorities and poverty, the segregation of minorities into the school with the worst outcomes and the markedly different rate of incarceration, to name only a few of the disparities, I am forced to conclude that something more systemic is going on here than random bad decisions.  The causes are complex but somehow the system keeps the poor, poor; makes sure the poor are mostly minorities; and the educational opportunity that they would need to break out of poverty is lacking.

That Bible says that neither explanation alone is adequate.  Proverbs 6:10-11 acknowledges the role personal irresponsibility often plays in poverty:

A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest–and poverty will come on you like a bandit and scarcity like an armed man. (NIV)

But Proverbs 13:23 is also clear that social injustice plagues the poor and keeps them from getting ahead:

A poor man’s field may produce abundant food, but injustice sweeps it away. (NIV)

We need to acknowledge the role that both personal responsibility and social injustice play as we begin to think about responses.

So where does that leave us?  I think it should make us humble and slow to judge.  Our stories are not the same.  We grew up in different worlds of opportunity and challenge.  How do we allow inner-city kids the same opportunity that many of us have enjoyed?  The answers to that question are complex, and I am only beginning to come up with some ideas, but I do know the answer is NOT doing nothing.  If we let things remain the way they are, most inner-city, poor, minority children will stay in the city–without an education that opens up doors of opportunity—and struggle to find work and make ends meet.  The question is how will each of us respond to the inequity and unequal opportunity that exists?

I would love to hear your thoughts on where to begin.  In a follow-up article, I will discuss some ideas.

I would like to thank all the people that shared their experiences, discussed the issues with me and edited my many drafts of this article—my wise and thoughtful wife Grace; my pastor Aaron Anderson; Dr. Bobby Simpson, Executive Director of the Crispus Attucks Association; Stephanie Seaton, Director of the York City Human Relations Commission; my friends Marquise Charles and Willie Martin; Jim McClure, Editor of the York Daily Record; Rev. Catherine Rose, Pastor of Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church;  my mother Elaine Zubrod; my father and Asst. U.S. Attorney Gordon A.D. Zubrod; and my brother-in-law, author and publisher Christopher Perrin, PhD.

Demolition at new Logos Academy site

Demolition at new Logos Academy site

Logos Demo“The former First Capital Fibers building, 256 W. King St. in York, is being demolished this week to make way for a new school.

The Logos Academy plans to begin construction on a 42,000-square-foot building in late July. The new school will house about 300 students in kindergarten through eighth grade.”

via Demolition at new school site – The York Daily Record.

Also you can see photos and find more information on the Logos Academy Facebook Fan Page on

YorkCounts – Annual Summit

YorkCounts – Annual Summit

This morning at the ballroom in the Yorktowne Hotel, York Counts had their annual summit review of the past year’s activities. York Counts is a non-profit group working specifically for the betterment of York County. A short description from their website is below

Strength in numbers. When we work together, were stronger. Better. YorkCounts is a premier nonprofit coalition working to assess, sustain and enhance the quality of life in York County, Pennsylvania — building alliances, introducing partners, spotlighting issues and facilitating conversations on education, economic development, health and safety, diversity and more.

Today along with presentation of the county health department committee’s findings we heard from PA Gov. Rendell’s Chief of Staff, Gregory Fajt, who detailed how the recent federal stimulus money will benefit Pennsylvanians and those from York County.  We also heard an informative talk from Clarence Page, a columnist for the Chicago Tribune, who spoke about our government, President Obama and the current state of race relations in our country.

The big development of the summit was the release of York Counts 2009 Indicators Report. The report is described as covering “38 indicators that are used to build a multi-faceted picture of the county, with data on diversity, poverty, education, employment, workforce, public health and arts and entertainment.”  

Taking this information from the various available resources gives a glimpse into the status of York County as it relates to the average of the rest of the state of Pennsylvania.  I’d encourage you to read the report and see how these indicators can effect our ministry to York City


via YorkCounts: York County, PAs quality-of-life coalition. Count me in..