While St. Louisans celebrated our past this week, the news held hints of our future. Most significant was a proposal from state education officials to revamp how they deal with troubled districts.
Long term, the proposal would allow state officials to intervene early and with a range of approaches. Short term, the state board took financial control of the Normandy schools – a move that caught district officials by surprise.
As planning begins for school transfers in the St. Louis area in the academic year that starts in August, and Missouri lawmakers return to Jefferson City for the new legislative session, one issue will loom large for both groups:
What changes, if any, will come to the transfer law that has dominated so many headlines, discussions and school board meetings in recent months?
After four hearings in Normandy and Riverview Gardens, plus suggestions and plans and proposals from education groups and lawmakers from throughout Missouri, it’s time for state education officials to try to come up with a plan to help struggling school districts.
And Chris Nicastro, the state’s commissioner of elementary and secondary education, wants to make sure that whatever plan her department comes up with, that is the focus: helping underachieving students and schools succeed.
The crowd was a lot smaller at Wednesday night’s second hearing called by Missouri state school officials into the future of the Normandy school district, but its passion remained strong.
And its message was a simple one: Their school district deserves more time to turn itself around, so the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) should come up with a plan that stops students transfers and helps Normandy survive.
Despite a growing chorus for Chris Nicastro to leave her post as Missouri’s commissioner of elementary and secondary education, the head of the state’s school board gave her a vote of confidence Monday and defended the selection of a consultant currently looking into the Kansas City schools.
Nicastro has come under fire in recent weeks, first for her consultation with an education advocacy group on its initiative petition that included changes in teacher tenure, then from a Kansas City Star story on Sunday.
Missouri's public school leaders are hoping state lawmakers next year will fully fund the formula for the state's K-12 school system, though they know the likelihood is slim. Ron Lankford is Deputy Commissioner of Finance and Administrative Services for the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. He spoke recently with St. Louis Public Radio's Marshall Griffin about the request and what full funding would mean for the state's 520 school districts:
What is the funding formula and what does it include?
St. Louis schools lost their accreditation five years ago and were soon after placed under state control, but they have improved over the past two years. In 2010 they only met 3 out of 14 performance standards, with six being the minimum require for provisional accreditation. Last year they met the minimum six, and this year they’ve met seven performance standards. State Board Member Peter Herschend (R) says, though, there’s no guarantee the vote will go St. Louis’s way.
The average ACT score for Missouri high school students is 21.6, a half a point higher than the national average of 21.1. Despite having the same average score as last year, Missouri’s ranking among the 50 states edged up slightly from 27th to 26th. The highest possible score is 36 and the lowest is one.