Educator talks evolution of teaching, state of education

What started as a profession selected out of financial convenience has led to a rewarding and successful career for Lynn Beckwith Jr.

Beckwith, the E. Desmond Lee Endowed Professor of Urban Education at the University of Missouri–St. Louis, chose to attend a teachers college because it was affordable. Since then, he has spent more than 50 years in education. He’s served as a teacher, assistant principal, principal, director of federal programs and executive director of state and federal programs for St. Louis Public Schools, and as superintendent for the University City [Mo.] School District.

The past 14 years have been spent at UMSL as an endowed scholar and the liaison between the university and the public schools. Since 2010, he has served as chair of the Special Administrative Board for the Riverview Gardens School District in St. Louis County, and in 2013 he received the Lifetime Achiever in Education award from the St. Louis American Foundation.

What do you think makes a good teacher?
I believe a good teacher is one who has a firm grasp of the subject area that he or she is teaching, knows how to deliver instruction to students in a manner that students can best understand, treats students in a caring and respectful manner and has a firm belief that all students can learn at high levels.

What is the biggest challenge facing education in the St. Louis area?
I believe at the K-12 level the Missouri Student Transfer Program is the biggest education challenge. While I believe in quality education for all, I do not believe that should be achieved by ultimately bankrupting unaccredited school districts and/or lapsing such districts, and assigning them to an adjoining district. At the college and university level, I believe the biggest education challenge in the St. Louis area is affordability. Often this leads to a corresponding student loan debt load that many students must carry in order to attend college.

What do you see as the solution for the region?
While there is no silver bullet to these challenges, I would suggest at the K-12 level, fully funding the Missouri Foundation Formula. Continually underfunding Missouri’s mechanism for funding its schools appears to make education in Missouri a lesser priority. Good schools cost money. A solution would be to become proactive rather than reactive in addressing the multiple challenges and needs of underperforming school districts. Also to put a greater emphasis on funding for early childhood education programs so that a greater focus can be put on addressing very early the developmental delays and lags in children. At the university level, I would suggest increasing the region’s understanding of the fact that the economic success of the region will depend in large part on the number of graduates from our colleges and universities.

What is your hope for the future of education in the region?
My hope for the future of education in the region is for there to be a collaborative and well-funded effort in support of the educational process for all of our students, regardless of economic status, race, religion or creed that begins with quality early childhood education and extends through the college level. That has the capacity to produce well-educated citizens who can serve as the engine in making the St. Louis region a world-class metropolitan area.

This story was originally published in the fall 2014 issue of UMSL Magazine.

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