St. Louis Public Schools
6:01 pm
Thu March 13, 2014

Adams Presents School Improvement Plan, Could Bring In Nonprofit Operators

Updated 8:45 p.m., Thurs., March 13 with details from final proposal and comments.

This evening St. Louis Public Schools Superintendent Kelvin Adams outlined his blueprint for building up academic achievement and meeting new standards established under the Missouri School Improvement Plan (MSIP5).

The “St. Louis Public Schools Transformation Plan” would construct a four-tiered system to hone in on schools that struggle the most academically. It would also give greater flexibility to those schools with the greatest academic success, according to a draft proposal he presented to the district’s Special Administrative Board (SAB).

In what might be a controversial provision in the plan, the district could seek nonprofit operators to take over the schools in the lowest tier if improvements aren't made during the coming school year.  Adams said a request for proposal is already prepared and could be released as soon as next week.  An outside operator would have the authority to hire staff and set curriculum. However, it could be months before the SAB considers an outside operator for final approval. No school could be taken over by an outside operator before the 2015-16 school year.

Adams gave no indication that he’s concerned about potential criticism to this part of the plan.  

“We’re not talking about it happening forever,” Adams said.  “We’re talking about for a limited amount of time, a focused, limited amount of time.  It might be three years, it might be five years, but the intent is that it remains a district school and all of the resources are district resources.” 

Adams also said the district would look to contract with a university to bring in additional teacher training around literacy instruction at schools with the lowest level of academic performance.

“I’m trying to focus resources on the greatest need students, that’s it,” Adams said.  “I’m trying to focus resources on the places that based on the data need the greatest support.”

President of the SAB, Rick Sullivan, asked Adams during his presentation whether he was at a point where he could say there are no excuses for why the district can’t achieve the goals laid out in the plan.

“I think the answer is yes,” Adams said.  “I think that is exactly what we are trying to compensate for by providing additional resources in the places that we need to have them.”

The plan lays out five overarching goals for the district, which scored in the unaccredited range under new standards set by MSIP5.

  • Align classroom instruction with new "Common Core" standards and build a stronger support system for struggling middle- and high-school students.
  • Monitor student data systematically and then make sure that information makes its way into classroom instruction.
  • Identify effective styles of instruction and provide regular and constructive feedback to educators.
  • Ensure that schools are welcoming places and better engage families.
  • Make sure that all students are prepared for Kindergarten.

The proposal calls for work toward all five goals to be under way by this fall and the implementation would be filtered through a four-tiered system based on academic performance. Here are the plan's four tiers.

The lowest-performing schools, on a tier called “Superintendent Zone, would receive the greatest level of support from the central office's staff. Putting these procedures in place would cost the district $6.4 million, and the district is currently looking for those funds in the fiscal year 2015 budget.  

  •  18 schools in the district would fall under this category, with a combined student body of 6,276 students this school year.
  • Schools in this category would be held to higher levels of accountability and oversight and have one-on-one meetings with the superintendent to go over student data on a bi-weekly basis. 
  • The district could bring in nonprofit operators for schools not making progress under this category during 2014-15 school year. 
  • The district will look to contract with a university to provide additional teacher training around  literacy instruction. 

The second tier is dubbed “Focus” schools. According to the draft proposal, the district would cover the costs for the plan by reallocating existing funds.

  • 16 schools fall under this category, with a total enrollment of 5,496 this school year. 
  • In selected schools, classroom instruction will be supplemented with individualized tutoring during the regular school day. 
  • The district would also facilitate bi-weekly coaching sessions with  principals to help them meet the objectives in the plan. 

The next tier, “Cluster” schools, would receive flexibility as to how they reach the overarching goals listed in the draft proposal.  

  • 19 schools are under this category, with 7,826 students this year. 
  • These schools will continue to receive support from central office staff, or “cluster” teams, made up of an associate superintendent and curriculum specialists in math, communication arts, science, art and music or social studies.

The best academic performing schools, called “Autonomous,” will be given the greatest level of flexibility in meeting their goals. To qualify for this category, a school must meet accreditation standards set by the state and have a principal with a minimum of three years of experience as a principal in the district.

  • 14 schools fall in this category with a total student enrollment of 5,290 students this year. 
  •  Staff and community partners for schools in this category have to develop a plan that outlines clear goals and objectives around student performance while requesting flexibility in one or more of the following areas: staffing; curriculum and programs; professional development; school and bell schedules; and financial resources. 

There were no public comments for or against the plan during the meeting.  The district will begin actively collecting community feedback through its website and during meetings scheduled for later this month. One is set for 6-8 p.m., Thurs., March 27, 2014 at Vashon High School. A second event is scheduled from 10 a.m.-noon, Sat., March 29 at Central VPA High School.