The Opportunity Trust Thinking Big for St. Louis

Eric Scroggins has a big vision: “A St. Louis where every single person is prepared to thrive in a rapidly changing world; a city that draws people from all backgrounds because of its sense of possibility and economic opportunities,” says the Founder and CEO of The Opportunity Trust. For the former teacher and senior executive at Teach for America, the transformation begins with the region’s public school systems.
Presently, just 10% of children in St. Louis attend a school that is preparing them to thrive in the 21st century, says Scroggins. “We can and must do better, and that requires us to do things differently, including breaking down the silos. Our role at The Opportunity Trust is to serve as intermediary between public systems and resources that can effect fundamental change, and to catalyze efforts,” he says, describing the model as similar to public-nonprofit partnerships such as Forest Park Forever.

The Opportunity Trust is the result of a nine-month study of the education landscape in St. Louis and its comparison to other communities such as Denver and Indianapolis that have reinvented antiquated school systems. Still in its infancy, the nonprofit has a growing base of educators and parents with shared goals and has outlined a handful of key initiatives. One – a digital St. Louis School Finder – was recently awarded a $125,000 Think Big for Kids grant from YouthBridge.

“In numerous focus groups with parents, we heard loud and clear their frustration with the lack of reliable, centralized information,” says Scroggins. “Finding and choosing the right school for their child is an overwhelming universe of disparate resources.”

Modeled after successful tools in Kansas City and elsewhere, the School Finder will feature objective data, comparisons, virtual tours and application information on neighborhood, charter and private school options across the area. Scroggins says the website will include “rich content” – to help parents get a feel for a school’s culture – with mobile-first functionality, as many lower income families are only able to access the internet on mobile phones. “It’s increasing equity by increasing information for all,” he says.

Scroggins sees a day when the St. Louis School Finder may be its own nonprofit, with a variety of programs and events that bring the search process to life. Through the development phase, The Opportunity Trust continues to seek feedback, particularly from families, while investing in other innovative initiatives that move it closer to the vision. In 10 years, Scroggins says they hope to grow the percentage of children in St. Louis with access to a world-class school from 10% to more than 40%.

How can St. Louisans get involved? “Get informed,” says Scroggins. “Know who is managing your school system and what their goals are. Ask about the reading proficiency of third graders and how eighth graders are performing in math – key indicators of their success in high school and beyond – and demand more ambitious actions. The strength of our public school systems is important to everyone.”