U. City schools superintendent to retire in 2016 as head of 'diamond in the rough' district | St. Louis Public Radio

U. City schools superintendent to retire in 2016 as head of 'diamond in the rough' district

Jun 22, 2015

University City School District Superintendent Dr. Joylynn Pruitt will retire at the end of next school year, according to an announcement released Tuesday.

Pruitt has spent eight years so far at the head of the U. City schools, and said by the end of her ninth year, it will be time for someone else to take the district to the “next level.”

"I am a firm believer that people are sent to different places for different reasons," Pruitt said, noting while she had always wanted to be an educator, she never thought she'd become a superintendent.

Pruitt spent 16 of her 38 years as an educator in the U. City schools. Board of Education president Lisa Brenner said in a statement that Pruitt's tenure "will be marked by her implementation of Destination U. City Schools," an effort to improve academic achievement, staff quality, parent and community engagement, fiscal solvency and transparency. 

During her tenure, Pruitt said the district of about 3,000 students changed attendance standards, improved its curriculum ("We got rid of a lot of the fluff," she said.), built a new library, expanded its early childhood program, and brought back a music program.

University City School District Superintendent Joylynn Pruitt said she is holding off her retirement until the end of next year in order to allow the school board time to find a replacement, and to be in place when annual performance data is released.
Credit Courtesy University City School District

"That was my mission. That was what I believe I was here to do," she said.

But while the district is fully accredited, its annual performance for 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 school years fell below state education standards for accreditation, failing to score 70 percent of the 140 points available on annual performance reviews. (State officials have said they won't count this year's scores if no improvement is shown due to newly implemented English language arts and math assessments.)

Pruitt said her schools face challenges that many others do not have, such as poverty, transience and homelessness among students. Yet the district was able to achieve its first "outright" accreditation under the last incarnation of the Missouri School Improvement Plan.

She admits the district is still "chipping away" at meeting the latest MSIP standards. She said she has seen some raw scores that look "pretty good" and is optimistic the district will meet those standards this year. 

Even if it doesn't, she said her schools have shown continuous improvement, which she calls the "greatest accomplishment."

"Our ACT scores are going up every year. Our scores in science, particularly in the high school are really growing. The number of students in AP classes...growing," she said. "We had 205 kids who walked into U. City High School last year as seniors. They all walked across the stage this May. That for me is amazing."

Still, Pruitt said part of the reason she decided to stay until the end of next school year is that she wants to be there "when that data comes out." 

"At the end of the day, I know that it's points that count as it relates to whether you're fully accredited, but in education, it should be about education kids and giving them a foundation that's going to help them become lifelong competitive individuals," she said. "And sometimes that's not reflected in a test score."

Superintendent Joylynn Pruitt poses with the University City High School robotics team during a competition.
Credit Courtesy Sayyestoucityschools.blogspot.com

  Pruitt said she is convinced the U. City district is "just a diamond in the rough" and that it will become a "destination" district. Already, she said, U. City is one of 114 districts across the country that has some form of robotics education at the elementary, middle and high school levels; it's also one of only three districts in Missouri that's part of the Kennedy Center Partners in Education Program.

But she said achieving more results may happen under her successor's tenure. She said whoever replaces her should avoid jumping on the "initiative-of-the-month" and stay the course on programs that have traditionally worked. He or she should also listen to "one of the most engaging communities I've ever been in," she said.

"I want the person who follows me to stay focused on what matters most to kids, and one of the things this community has said to us is they want us to focus on the uniqueness that kids have, and to celebrate the accomplishments that they make, regardless of how small they are. So the kid who is working really hard to get that 'C', celebrate that 'C,'" she said.

After retiring, Pruitt plans to travel, work at the university level and consult. But she said she will not look for another superintendent position because she's already been "superintendent in the best school district in the world."

As for the next year, while the district spends it searching for her replacement, Pruitt said she will spend it trying to "tell our story of the work that we've done, where we were and where we are now."