#FORWARD-THINKING
Vision Forward

March 17, 2022

CHARACTER TRAIT: FORWARD-THINKING

DEFINITION: favoring innovation and development; planning for the future

Any strong city has a strong educational foundation. But what really sets a city apart – and really makes it uncommon – is when that foundation is built around the thoughts, opinions and ideas of the families and leaders who call that city home … now, and in future generations.

In St. Joseph, creating the educational opportunities that lead the next generation forward is definitely uncommon business. For the past several years, repeated town hall style meetings and community-led initiative groups have helped guide the path for innovations and changes. In 2022, a new series of community engagement meetings called Vision Forward has brought the deep thinkers and both right and left brains together around the table. Sessions are held at various community locations, are open to the public, and involve discussions around key questions.

Teresa Simmons, Co-Chair of the Vision Forward Community Engagement Team, and team member of Mo-Kan Regional Development, Inc., is one of those forward-thinkers.

“There hasn’t been a time since my girls were in school that I haven’t somehow been involved with the school district in one way or another,” says Simmons. “The school district is the heartbeat of a community, and how we support it – not just with taxes, but with all voices promoting it and the staff of our buildings feeling valued – this is what is on display.”

Community planning is also a focus of the sessions. Ultimately, a long-range plan will be formed for the St. Joseph School District that reflects the community’s priorities for future operations. Members of the district administration team are also helping direct the process, alongside the Community Engagement Team, with assistance from a professional community engagement firm.

The dialogue is lively, spanning from how to honor educators to how to integrate curriculum to surrounding businesses and future career needs. When it’s time to discuss solutions to challenges, data and information is presented by district administrators. Time is allotted for groups and tables to complete an activity based around the information presented, with topics like “what is surprising about the district” to “what would you like to learn more about going forward?”

“Educating students and having them take pride in their schools, their friends/peers and their teachers carries over to them choosing to live and work here, and raise their own families here,” says Simmons. “There is success every day for students in these buildings, but also real challenges. We want to focus on both, as an entire community.”

As the sessions unfold, Simmons says the goal is also to learn more about the public vision for the future of the St. Joseph School District.

“If we can learn what the community envisions, the cost can be identified and the plan created. We are looking forward to the community being invested in this process so we can find new solutions and support our district.”

#POWERFUL

More than a decade of service later, the program continues to grow. Most of the kids who live in this St. Joseph neighborhood receive free or reduced priced breakfast and lunch during the school year, but have limited food resources in the summer. 

#FRIENDLY

Across the city, every day, adults are helping clear a path for youth to reach more opportunities. They are sharing their mentoring skills, life lessons and ultimately, their friendship, through the Big Brothers Big Sisters program. And it looks like hanging out at the local burger joint. Taking a walk. Joining other “matches” at the park for crafting with a lot of laughs.

#SUCCESS

What does it take to turn a business idea into a thriving reality? In St. Joseph, the formula for success is well-defined: The spark or “drive” to make it happen; the willingness to make a plan; and the expert-level guidance from the Center for Entrepreneurship, a unique initiative of Missouri Western State University (MWSU).

#HISTORIC

A visit to the St. Joseph museums is … Quirky. Surprising. Curious. Impressive. Enlightening. And totally worth a day, or an afternoon, or a full weekend with the family.

#INVESTING

No community is separated from homelessness and poverty, regardless of location or size. It’s a complex and universal challenge involving poverty, mental health and numerous community partners. In St. Joseph, residents and leaders are taking a very focused approach to real solutions toward homelessness, with most of these efforts geared toward the Imagine 2040 “invest in people” goal.