With just over a week before the first day of classes for St. Louis Public Schools (SLPS), the district partnered with the Urban League to host an annual back to school fair Saturday.
An estimated 10,000 people attended the Back to School and Community Empowerment Festival, lining up outside St. Louis University's Chaifetz Arena to get free school supplies and find out about area resources.
Urban League President and CEO Michael McMillan said the purpose of the fair is to make sure students—and their families—are ready for the school year.
“Our goal is to make sure that our students are enrolled, that we have the school supplies distributed to them, that we get the not-for-profit agencies out to provide the information, to provide the stability in the homes so people can stay where they are,” said McMillan.
In addition to school registration and enrollment booths, more than 150 vendors were stationed throughout the arena, providing information on everything from rental assistance to scholarships.
As the countdown to the new school year begins, students who ended last year more than a grade below reading level have yet to find out what grade they will be in.
At the fair on Saturday, Superintendent Kelvin Adams said that the district is still looking at summer school results to determine who can be promoted. He said the information is delayed this year because the retention policy is stricter for districts with a Special Administrative Board (SAB).
“We don’t want to retain a kid and then move a kid later on,” said Adams. “That’s a really traumatic piece, so we want to be sure about that. Plus, we want to give parents an opportunity to bring any kind of data they may have that they attended some sort of other summer school that might be equivalent.”
In September of last year, a state audit listed a string of problems at SLPS that included promoting students to the next grade even though they might be too far behind in reading. The audit noted that more than 2,000 students in 2011 and 2012 tested at the lowest level in reading on state assessments. At the same time, 155 and 128 first through eighth grade students were held back during those years, respectively.
Before a fourth grader can move on to the next grade, they cannot be more than one grade level behind in reading. Because an SAB oversees the provisionally accredited district, a separate law extends that requirement to students through the eighth grade.
In June of 2012, SLPS tightened its promotion and retention rules for fourth graders. But Adams has said that because the district is governed by an SAB, administrators weren’t aware of the added rules for first through eighth grade students.
A follow up audit issued in February found that the district had begun taking steps to help catch up students who have fallen behind. Part of that process was putting a greater emphasis on enrolling them in summer school.
While he had a rough idea of how many students may be retained, Adams said he didn’t want to go on the record with a number until it was official.
“I have some numbers, but I don’t feel comfortable putting numbers out there because sometimes those are the only numbers that people remember,” said Adams. “So I want to make sure that we give the accurate information. And we’ll be providing that to the public in five to 10 days.”
Adams said that instead of focusing on how many students are being held back, the attention should be on efforts to get students reading on grade level.
“I think everyone is focused on the retention piece,” said Adams. “We’re looking at the intervention piece: what kind of resources can we put in place regardless of what grade the kid is in. If we retain them or don’t retain them, if the kid is not reading on grade level, what are we putting in place to try to support that kid?”
This report was compiled with assistance from Tim Lloyd.