With less than three months on the job, Normandy School District Superintendent Tyrone McNichols has a clear plan to regain accreditation from the state and a strong message about the help he needs to make that plan successful.
The main academic components of McNichols' plan involve a new literacy program in partnership with the University of Missouri-St. Louis and a new focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). As part of the focus on STEM, a new science program is being implemented through a partnership with Washington University.
“We do believe that a focus on STEM throughout our whole entire organization will not only help us with the MAP and the end-of-course exams, but it will also make our students career and college ready for the 21st century,” said McNichols.
New leadership is also in place.
“We brought in a whole new team for the most part,” said McNichols. “We brought in a CFO from other districts, who has been successful. We brought a new curriculum and instruction person….and not to toot my own horn, but the schools and the districts that I’ve worked in, I’ve been successful in improving test scores everywhere that I’ve worked.”
But, said McNichols, Normandy needs more time and more resources in order for the plan to be a success. And with the economic burden of paying for the transfer of 1,000 students to accredited school districts, the school district is facing severe budget shortages.
The district shortages are exasperated by the fact that Normandy is required to pay the tuition of the school students transfer to, which can be significantly more than the amount Normandy spends per student.
“If it was as simple as we got in 12,000 and we sent out 12,000, it would be a wash. We could make the kinds of adjustments that are necessary,” said McNichols. Normandy spends about $12,000 per student, $5000 of which comes from local funds and $7000 of which comes from the state.
“But in some cases we have districts such as Clayton that cost us 19. So that’s $7000 over the 12 we have to come up. Which means we have to reduce $7000 on the 12 for the students that have stayed.”
McNichols wants the state legislature to fix the rate of tuition so Normandy doesn’t have to pay the cost differential. He also wants a halt on further transfers and to be given a grace period before Normandy is held to the new state accreditation standards.
“That would be a fix that gives us the time, the resources and the support to try and make an impact with the students,” said McNichols. “And the reason I say that with regards with Normandy—Normandy just lost its accreditation in January…so we really have not had a full year to implement comprehensive strategies to become accredited.”
Does Income Level Affect A School District's Accreditation Score?
In addiction to academics, addressing the needs of economically underprivileged members of the community is a big part of McNichols' plan for earning back accreditation. More than 90 percent of students in the Normandy School District receive free and reduced lunch.
McNichols sees the instability poverty creates in the lives of his students as inhibiting their ability to focus on school. And the numbers seem to support his view. In the St. Louis region, schools with a high percentage of students enrolled in free or reduced lunch have lower accreditation scores from the state.
Look at the map below for more details. It compares the percent of students enrolled in free and reduced price lunch with the total accreditation score for each school district in St. Louis and St Charles County, as well as St. Louis City.
In order to qualify for free and reduced price lunch, a child must come from a family with an income that is 130 percent or less of the poverty rate.
Click on a school district to see numbers for that specific district.
Credit: Tim Lloyd. Source: Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education
The nonprofit organization Beyond Housing has initiated a plan to provide community support for socio-economic development through a program called 24:1, uniting the 24 municipalities in the school district to create “strong communities, engaged families and successful children.”
“What we’ve said to the Normandy School District for the last three and a half years is how can we and all our other partner not-for-profits be most helpful, strategic and tactical to help the children who show up to the Normandy Schools each and every day be successful? What would that look like?” said Chris Krehmeyer, president and CEO of Beyond Housing.
Beyond Housing and its not-for-profit partners have built homes and put in a grocery store in Pageville as part of their efforts to stabilize neighborhoods. They are also working towards putting in a health clinic and expanding pre-Kindergarten programs.
Through the 24:1 Initiative, McNichols and Krehmeyer hope to provide a more stable home environment for the children of the Normandy School District. With a more stable home life, they hope students can better focus on doing well in school.