Unaccredited Districts
9:17 pm
Thu June 26, 2014

With District About To Lapse, Elected Normandy Board Holds Final Meeting

With some anger, some defiance and some celebration, the elected board of the Normandy school district held its final meeting Thursday night.

On Tuesday, the district will be replaced by the Normandy Schools Collaborative, to be run by a board whose members have not yet all been appointed. Ty McNichols is set to remain as superintendent, but he and other administrators will be working without contracts.

William Humphrey, president of the elected board, said he hopes one or two members who have been elected will be picked for the new board, as state education officials have said they would be. He said while some discussions have taken place, no one has been formally asked to serve.

“This community has been disenfranchised,” Humphrey said of the decision to replace the elected board. “Their voice has been taken away, and I do not take that lightly.”

William Humphrey
William Humphrey
Credit Normandy website

Normandy’s status changed after the payment of tuition for about 1,000 students who chose to transfer to nearby accredited schools drove the district to the brink of bankruptcy. Emergency money from the state came with the condition that the district’s finances be controlled by the state, not the local board.

That decision was followed last month by the vote by the state board of education to lapse the district as of this coming Monday and replace it with the collaborative. Last week, the board voted to give the new Normandy no accreditation status at all but said students who had transferred in the past school year could continue if receiving districts were willing to accept a lower tuition rate, about $7,200.

Boards of the receiving districts have been meeting to decide their stance on transfers; so far Francis Howell and University City have said they would not accept transfers in the coming school year.

To show their continued displeasure with the transfer program, the Normandy board voted to reject nearly $1.2 million in tuition bills for May and June. They also voted to accept the district’s final budget, but under protest.

A letter to district residents that was read aloud by board member Nancy Hartman on behalf of her and her colleagues recounted the events that led to the district’s dissolution, starting with Normandy’s loss of accreditation and the Missouri Supreme Court ruling last June that upheld the law allowing students to transfer out of unaccredited districts.

It pointedly blamed the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education for many decisions that have hurt the district.

She called the circumstances a “perfect storm” that combined to bring the district down.

The letter added: “The decision DESE made to lapse the Normandy School District resulted in the loss of local control by you, the voters. The new governing board will be accountable to DESE, not you. This is part of a pattern that has become clearer as local control is taken away from one district after another: St. Louis Public Schools, Wellston School District, Riverview Gardens School District, Normandy School District. What these districts all have in common is that their students are overwhelmingly African American. The rights of the voters in these districts to control their own schools have been taken away. Restoration of those rights is nowhere to be seen.”

The letter urged Normandy residents to contact Gov. Jay Nixon and their elected representatives to protest the action against Normandy, engage with community leaders to hold those in charge of the new district accountable and to “keep supporting the children in Normandy in whatever way you can.”

In interviews after the meeting, Humphrey and McNichols talked about the uncertainty that remains even as the changeover to the new district looms.

Humphrey said he hopes the elected board, which he said will no longer meet as a group, has some representation on the new appointed board.

“We welcome the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s reaching out to this elected school board to have a melding of the two groups so that we can move the Normandy schools forward,” he said. “Until that happens, this is a race that cannot be finished.”

McNichols said that the uncertainty surrounding the future transfers make it difficult to know just who will be in Normandy’s classrooms when the new school year begins.

“I don’t know if they’re going to all come back,” he said. “But any kid that comes back, either from Francis Howell or the kids, because we’re a very transient community, that come in, we will accept any kids, we will make sure that they have a quality education. That is our goal. That hasn’t changed.”

He likened the situation in Normandy to flying a plane and building it at the same time.

After Humphrey gaveled the meeting to a close, members posed for pictures and exchanged hugs. Food was served and an atmosphere of celebration mixed with sadness filled the room. The crowd at the meeting was sparse, consisting mainly of people who either work for the district or have some other connection to it.

Work continues on new Normandy

As the Normandy board prepared for its final meeting, DESE released more information about its work leading up to the start of the Normandy Schools Collaborative on Tuesday.

It also clarified some of the transfer rules that were approved last week by the state board of education.

Besides Francis Howell and University City, some other districts have made their plans known as well.

Tom Williams, superintendent in Kirkwood, said in a statement earlier this week that he will recommend his district retain all eligible Normandy students enrolled there. Representatives from Webster Groves and Hazelwood said their districts had made the same decision.

But many districts had held their final board meetings for the school year before the action by the state board last week was announced, so they may not be able to meet a deadline of Monday that was set by the state for responding to the question of whether they would accept transfers at the new tuition rate.

Commissioner Chris Nicastro says she expects to hear from districts Friday and even Monday as the deadline approaches. She also said that if the department has not heard from districts by that deadline, she will assume they will accept the lower rate and plan accordingly.

Chris Nicastro
Chris Nicastro
Credit DESE website

In a statement released Thursday, the department attempted to clarify issues that have arisen in recent days.

For example, the state board had approved a policy that barred students from transferring if they had not attended a Normandy school in the 2012-13 school year. But for students who began kindergarten as transfer students this past year, and were too young to attend any school the year before, the transfer status had been unclear.

DESE said Thursday that “first-time kindergarten students in the 2013-2014 school year who were residents of the Normandy School District will be allowed to continue to transfer.”

Similarly, in an effort to keep siblings together, incoming kindergarten students who have older brothers or sisters in the transfer program who are eligible to remain in the program will also be able to transfer.

But the department reiterated that students who did not attend a Normandy school for at least one semester in the 2012-13 school year will no longer be able to transfer in the coming school year. Any students who transferred last year but withdrew from their new school will not be able to transfer.

In another statement released on Thursday, DESE said other efforts continue in advance of the new school year in Normandy, which begins for staff on Aug. 4 and for students on Aug. 18. The school year will be longer than last year’s, with 183 days planned. For 2015-16, a year-round school calendar is planned, with 195 days of class. The state minimum is 174 days.

Because all teacher contracts will lapse on Monday, with the end of the current Normandy district, a whole new staff has to be hired. DESE said many teacher positions have been filled and more teachers still need to be hired to help the district put into place a more rigorous and relevant curriculum along with new learning techniques including flipped classrooms, tutoring before and after school and additional support from community organizations.

Those kinds of basic changes are needed to make the improvements Normandy needs, Nicastro said in a statement from DESE.

“Deep and fundamental change is the only way to break the cycle of low performance within the district,” Nicastro said. “We are working with the district to employ skilled and committed educators and provide them with the tools they need to help kids learn."