Education

Elijah Haahr
Campaign site

A newly signed law designed to protect religious expression in Missouri’s public schools reinforces a constitutional amendment passed two years ago, but some say that it could lead to fewer opportunities for students to express their religious views.

The law, HB1303, was signed last week by Gov. Jay Nixon. Dubbed the “Missouri Student Religious Liberties Act,” it says that:

Stephanie Zimmerman

The scaffolding surrounding DuBourg Hall on the Saint Louis University campus is as much symbolic as it is structural.

While the administration building gets a facelift, the president’s office got a new occupant this week. Fred Pestello, SLU’s first non-Jesuit president, took over on Tuesday after a six-year career as president of Le Moyne College, another Jesuit institution in Syracuse, N.Y.

DESE website

Before he gave the oath of office to the five appointed members of the new board of the Normandy Schools Collaborative Tuesday, state school board vice president Mike Jones also gave them some advice.

First, he told them that what they are doing is not community service, it is public service.

The difference?

“The community is always grateful for your service,” Jones said. “The public always is not.”

Then, he noted that while the Missouri state school board may have confirmed their appointments, the big job ahead is theirs.

Flickr

In the wake of dissatisfaction at its academic performance and other issues, the top officials at the Construction Careers Center charter school in St. Louis have been dismissed and its board has been dissolved.

The actions came last week. The charter is sponsored by the St. Louis Public Schools.

Doug Thaman, who heads the Missouri Charter Public Schools Association, said that the situation at the center had been building for some time, and last year, they brought in a new superintendent, Paul Smith, to evaluate what needed to be done.

Entrance to Normandy High School campus
(via Google Maps screen capture)

Updated at 10:17 a.m. Tuesday with Pattonville decision, DESE comment on vacation days.

The Missouri state board of education filled out the new board for the Normandy Schools Collaborative Monday by adding Sheila Williams, a member of the elected school board, and Andrea Terhune, a former IT executive with Enterprise.

Field of students at a graduation
(via Flickr/j.o.h.n. walker)

As a junior in high school, Ayont Young figured she’d go to Missouri State University to study nursing. It was the only college she’d looked at and she was sure she could get in. Then, she signed up for College Summit’s summer Peer Leader program.

College Summit is a local answer to the lack of academic support and resources in some communities nationwide. Program leaders encourage their students to reach higher and work harder – while giving them the support they need to do so.

Stephanie Zimmerman

Updated at 9:24 a.m. Monday with more district decisions about Normandy transfers.

As the Normandy school district is about to give way to the Normandy Schools Collaborative, Missouri’s education commissioner is addressing criticism about how the transition has been handled.

Chris Nicastro’s response: The decisions that have been made represent the best available from a list of bad options.

St. Louis Public Schools

While plenty of work is left to be done, St. Louis Public Schools has established a foothold in its effort to raise academic performance and reverse decades of sagging enrollment. 

That's the big takeaway from a report by the Chicago based IFF, a nonprofit that released a similar study in 2009 when city leaders were considering the best locations for a wave of charter schools.

(Flickr/Cast a Line)

Updated at 5:07 p.m., Fri., June 27.    

The University City School District’s board voted Thursday evening no longer to accept transfer students from Normandy.

The 80 students who were signed up to return to the district but can no longer continue in the transfer program join the 350 students who, a week ago, were told they could no longer go to school in Francis Howell.

Even though the school transfer issue aroused passionate debate last year, the issue still isn't resolved.
Stephanie Zimmerman | St. Louis Public Radio

With some anger, some defiance and some celebration, the elected board of the Normandy school district held its final meeting Thursday night.

On Tuesday, the district will be replaced by the Normandy Schools Collaborative, to be run by a board whose members have not yet all been appointed. Ty McNichols is set to remain as superintendent, but he and other administrators will be working without contracts.

Credit Cast a Line / Flickr

The St. Louis area has had more than its share of education headlines this past year. St. Louis schools are trying to regain accreditation amid much turmoil. Normandy and Riverview Gardens lost their accreditation. The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has taken over the Normandy School District and announced that all teachers must reapply for their jobs. Riverview Gardens is in a holding pattern as it has enough resources to continue school for a while, but uncertainty remains and its academic record is poor.

/ File photo

As promised, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed on Tuesday the wide-ranging school transfer bill passed by lawmakers this year, saying it violates basic principles of public education and does nothing to help students trapped in unaccredited schools.

At the offices of Education Plus in west St. Louis County, the governor listed three main reasons for his action.

Tim Lloyd / St. Louis Public Radio

The St. Louis region needs more immigrants to help bolster the economy.

That's the basic premise behind the St. Louis Mosaic Project, an initiative to make the St. Louis region the fastest growing major metro area of foreign-born residents by 2020.  

A key part of the project – which is supported by an A-list of St. Louis city and county officials – is retaining international students. Area universities figure they can pitch in and are gathering at Washington University Tuesday to discuss the best ways for St. Louis to hang on to international students after graduation. 

Tim Lloyd / St. Louis Public Radio

Anxiety crept through SheRon Chaney when she heard that the Francis Howell School District would no longer accept about 350 transfer students from Normandy who were signed up to continue in the program. 

“Last year we were hopeful, this year we’re fearful,” she said. 

Chaney transferred her middle school aged daughter BrenNae to Maplewood Richmond Heights last year.  And even though Francis Howell’s decision —  made during a closed session of its school board — doesn’t affect her directly, it has Chaney and hundreds of other parents holding their breath.  

Entrance to Normandy High School campus
(via Google Maps screen capture)

The Francis Howell School District announced today it will no longer accept transfer students from Normandy.  The district was expecting roughly 350 students who transferred last fall to continue during the coming school year. Last summer, the soon-to-be-dissolved Normandy School District selected Francis Howell as its transportation option for students. 

Because the Normandy Schools Collaborative will have no accreditation status, the Francis Howell district said it is no longer legally obligated to accept transfer students.

Tim Lloyd / St. Louis Public Radio

Yvaunna Brown just graduated from Hazelwood West High School and feels like the future is wide open.

She’s thinking about community college, or maybe the University of Missouri-St. Louis is a better fit. Brown is dead set on one thing, though: becoming the first person in her family to go to college.

“And that’s pretty exciting,” Brown said. “That’s a big deal for me.” 

It’s also daunting. Loads of paper work must be completed and the deadlines will start coming fast.

Courtesy Normandy School District

While policy debates and legal battles swirl around the new Normandy school district, Savonna Stacey has a more personal question:

Where can her son attend first grade when the new school year starts?

The Stacey family lives in the Normandy school district, and last summer, Stacey took advantage of the state law that lets students living in unaccredited districts enroll in nearby accredited ones. She enrolled Jonathan in kindergarten in Ritenour.

Entrance to Normandy High School campus
(via Google Maps screen capture)

JEFFERSON CITY — More than 130 students whose families moved into the Normandy School District last summer to be able take advantage of the school transfer program will be shut out of the program this coming school year under a policy adopted by the state board of education Monday.

Chris Nicastro
DESE website

Updated 2:03 p.m.

Here are three names of new board members, confirmed by St. Louis Public Radio: 

  • Reginald Dickson, Normandy resident/serves on board of Beyond Housing

  • Charles Pearson, retired administrator/resident/Task Force

  • Richard Ryffel, past-president Beyond Housing//Executive Director J.P. Morgan Bank

Courtesy Normandy School District

While the Missouri board of education wrestles with big questions concerning  Normandy schools – who will run them, how will the curriculum change, how can student achievement be raised – parents in the district have much more personal concerns:

Will their children still be able to transfer to nearby accredited districts in the coming school year?

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