St. Louis Public Schools see a turnaround, but it still might not be enough
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St. Louis Public Schools see a turnaround, but it still might not be enough

Date: October 12, 2012
By: Alexander Mallin
State Capitol Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY -  In less than a week, the State Education Board will decide whether the St. Louis Public School District is fit for regaining provisional accreditation.

The district lost accreditation in 2007, and a state-appointed board took control of operations.

The CEO of the state board Richard Sullivan said a long-range recovery plan was set up by the board in April of 2008 that outlined goals to reach the required academic standards set by the state.

"We spent a lot of time in town hall meetings and gathering people from the community just listening and getting feedback from the community," Sullivan said. "By staying focused on the kids and focusing on the plan and working with our superintendent we have been able to make the progress we have made."

The district will hear on Tuesday, Oct. 16 whether it qualifies for provisional accreditation by the state. The state standard for provisional accreditation is that a district must meet six out of the 14 standards required. The district met seven of those requirements after the 2011 academic year.

Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, or DESE, spokeswoman Sarah Potter said the district still may not gain accreditation.

"The department and the board have said that one year is not enough to change classification," Potter said. "The Missouri School Improvement program moves on cycles and they have been five-year cycles so we have been looking at five years of data."

Sullivan and the state-appointed board wrote a letter to the state board outlining why they believed the school had earned accreditation.

"The people in the classroom have worked hard and dramatically improved their academic performance," Sullivan said.  "We'd like to see students teachers and principals earn what they have worked so hard to attain."

If it regains accreditation, it will be the first district to do so since the Niangua School District in 2002. According to Niangua Administrative Assistant Vula Dudley, the district still feels the affects of its stripped accreditation even after gaining it back the following year.

"People look at us with a different attitude now," Dudley said. "It has played a big part in our enrollment never building back to where it was originally."

While both districts differ wildly in terms of enrollment, both Sullivan and Dudley said the source of turnaround in their districts was due largely to cooperation with students and teachers and high emphasis on promoting literacy.

Dudley said the one-year turnaround in Niangua was due largely to the low student to teacher ratio influence.

"In your larger schools they just don't have that extra time to spend with an individual student in the classroom like you do with a class of 15 students," Dudley said.

According to the DESE data system, in 2011 Niangua had a student to classroom teacher ratio of 14 to one and St. Louis had a ratio of 19 to one.

Ami Boehlje, a parent of three students in the St. Louis district, said she noticed that the district put a lot of focus on improving early childhood education as a method of promoting long-term academic improvement.

"In a district as large as this the process of regaining accreditation is certainly a long one," Boehlje said. "I think that the incremental progress that the district has made is showing and I hope that that trend continues."

Boehlje said the state board's decision of whether or not to approve provisional accreditation is a no-brainer.

"If the numbers are the numbers than I think they should have accreditation," Boehlje said. "I don't know politically what is going into that decision though."

Rep. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis City, said that the board should reinstate accreditation in order to improve the integrity of the students' education.

"I don't know if we even need to be thinking about provisionally accredited," Nasheed said. "I think at some point we just need to say 'Are you accredited or are you not?' We need to get our children to where they need to be so that they can compete in the global economy."  

Potter said if the district regains provisional accreditation, it will be in uncharted territory. There are no set regulations as to whether or not the state-governing board will still be in power or return to the elected board.

Bill Haas, a member of the St. Louis Public Schools Elected School Board said this is a problem.

"If there are standards for when control of the district is taken away, there should be standards for when it is given back," Haas said. "And there aren't, it would appear."

Nasheed said she plans to work on legislation to introduce in the next session that will bring a more clarified process to what happens in the event a school regains accreditation.

Whether or not the district gains provisional accreditation, Sullivan said the district has a great deal of work left to do.

"Our number one focus here is the kids," Sullivan said. "I think we've been able to make the improvements we've made because of that fact and there are still lots of improvements that can and should be made in the classrooms."