Fight, Vikings: New film chronicles decline in Normandy schools | St. Louis Public Radio

Fight, Vikings: New film chronicles decline in Normandy schools

Jul 9, 2015

The words to the Normandy High School fight song take on a different meaning in a new film by Terry Artis.

A 1982 graduate of the school and a former member of the school board of the unaccredited north St. Louis County district, Artis wrote, produced and directed “The Dismantling of the Normandy School District.”

The former high school drummer starts off the movie showing the Normandy band marching in formation, with the school song playing in the background, a plaintive version of the traditional “On Wisconsin”:

“On ye Vikings, on ye Vikings, fight for red and green,

With a firm determination, we will surely win!”

In the view of Artis, the district did not win when the Missouri state board of education dissolved Normandy last July and replaced it with the Normandy Schools Collaborative, run by an appointed board. He says the schools and the community at large lost.

Credit Google Maps screen capture

“I think that taking away the power of the people, there is no right in that whatsoever,” he said in an interview after a screening of the film Thursday at the St. Louis County Library branch on Natural Bridge. “Those are things that cause revolutions. There is no right in taking away the right of the people to govern their own systems.”

Much of the movie features testimony by members of the Normandy community at several meetings held by state education officials to discuss changes in the district. The film emphasizes the fact that nearly all of the students in Normandy are black, while nearly all of Missouri’s top education officials are white.

Artis said that racial disparity was a strong factor behind decisions made about the district.

“I would have to say that it would have really been absolutely impossible for Normandy to have been predominantly white and this happen,” he said.

But, he acknowledged, when it came time to send his own daughter to school, even though his neighborhood was part of the Normandy school district, he didn’t want her to go there. So, she attended classes in schools where her mother worked as an educator, then graduated from Metro Academic and Classical High School in the city.

“I fully accept my responsibility in the dismantling of the Normandy School District,” he said in the film, adding:

“It didn’t take long to realize that the Normandy of that time was not the Normandy of my young years.”

In an interview later, Artis said, “I don’t regret decisions that I made. I know that I’m the biggest hypocrite in the district in that regard. But we all want what’s going to be best for our child.”

The movie recaps some of the familiar episodes of the past two years, including the highly charged meeting in the Francis Howell school district after Normandy identified it as the place where it would pay for transportation for transfer students.

Artis was a rebel during his time on the Normandy board, refusing to vote to approve tuition and transportation payments for the transfers and generally opposing any efforts for the state to take control. He often was at odds with his board colleagues, but he isn’t repentant.

Terry Artis
Credit Normandy website

“I questioned every decision they did,” he said in the film, “and objected to most everything the other board members did. I was not there to be their friend.”

The film includes a quick shot of Michael Brown, who graduated from Normandy High School last summer, as well as the aftermath of the protests following his death in Ferguson in August.

It also takes note of the disparities in north county courts that have prompted some changes. Artis said that Vinita Terrace, with a population of 277, is often called “Vinita Terrorists” because of its treatment of black residents in the area.

Artis said he edited the film down to just over an hour from more than 800 gigabytes of footage. He compiled the final version during a recent trip to the United Arab Emirates.

He said he hopes the film will find an audience, perhaps in other Missouri school districts where impoverished students score poorly. And, he said, he will keep struggling to make the district the best it can be.

“I’ll always be a Viking,” Artis said. “I’ll live and die a Viking. I’m a real Viking.”
Or as the fight song concludes:

“On ye Vikings, on ye Vikings, fight for red and green,

Fight Vikings fight, fight, fight for Normandy.”

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“The Dismantling of the Normandy School District” will be shown at 7 p.m. Friday night, July 10, at the Regional Arts Commission, 6128 Delmar Blvd. Admission is $10.