Tim Lloyd | St. Louis Public Radio / St. Louis Public Radio

When Missouri Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson was a kid, he and some of his buddies got into some mischief.

They were throwing snowballs at passing cars and then ran off to hide. Then, the police officer who patrolled Johnson’s neighborhood caught them.

“So, we put the snowballs behind our backs,” Johnson recalled.    

“Were you guys the ones throwing snowballs?” Johnson said the officer asked.

“We all said ‘no,’ even though we had the snowballs behind our backs,” Johnson said. 

Michelle Peltier/Saint Louis University

Fred Pestello may be the first lay president of Saint Louis University, but he is hardly ignoring the school’s mission grounded in Jesuit philosophy.

At his inauguration Friday morning, Pestello told faculty, staff, students, alumni and representatives of other universities that the traditions of a Jesuit education mean that SLU must “ask the most compelling questions of our time. Our mission statement itself is a reflection of this extraordinary vocation. We commit ourselves to the pursuit of truth for the greater glory of God and the service of humanity….

Rebecca Smith/St. Louis Public Radio

A tutoring program that now serves 150 students in north St. Louis could expand to help 350 more students in the city and north St. Louis County with the help of $500,000 in federal funds awarded by the state of Missouri.

comedy nose | Flickr

Almost 20,000 students in St. Louis and Kansas City attended a charter school last school year. That’s nearly twice as many compared to the 2003-04 school year.  And the breadth of charter school options  could grow as the Missouri Charter Public School Commission begins to take shape.

Vashon High School freshman Rochelle Mason joined other students in a walk-out over substitute teachers and quality resources.
Stephanie Lecci | St. Louis Public Radio

About 100 students from St. Louis' Vashon High School walked out of classes Friday morning to demand more full-time teachers and better textbooks.

The students also were upset about certain school policies and the hiring of a new principal.

Vashon has been under scrutiny after it earned only 28 percent of available points on the most recent report card from the state.

Substitute teachers 


Americans don’t fare that well when it comes to understanding how their government works. 

For example, 35 percent of Americans couldn’t name a single branch of the U.S. government and 20 percent thought a 5-4 Supreme Court decision is sent back to Congress for reconsideration.

That's according to a survey released last week by the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania.

Marshall Griffin/St. Louis Public Radio

For the last five years, Chris Nicastro has served as commissioner of Missouri's Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. She announced her retirement earlier this month and will step down at the end of the year.

Her tenure was marked by controversial decisions regarding school districts in north St. Louis County, including the Normandy School District, now known as the Normandy Schools Collaborative.  

St. Louis Public Radio education reporter Dale Singer spoke with Nicastro earlier this week and we aired a portion of that conversation on “St. Louis on the Air.” 

(via Flickr/evmaiden)

Depending on whose opinion you get, this week’s initial meetings to draw up new school standards for Missouri students were a “Common Core cheerleading session” or a strong-arm attempt that was “hijacked by political extremists” on the right.

Either way, the eight committees impaneled under a law passed earlier this year appear to have a long way to go to meet a deadline of having the new standards ready for approval a year from now.

DESE website

As she moves toward her retirement after more than five years as Missouri’s commissioner of elementary and secondary education, Chris Nicastro has definite thoughts about what she got done, what she would have liked to accomplish and what her successor needs to bring to the job.

She also – after just a slight hesitation – has a pretty good idea of how, as a teacher, she would grade her tenure in Jefferson City.

“Oh …. probably a C-plus,” she said during a wide-ranging interview this week at the Wainwright state office building downtown.

So you’re a tough grader?

Tim Lloyd / St. Louis Public Radio

State education officials were in north St. Louis County Monday evening, getting an update on steps the Riverview Gardens School District is taking toward ramping up classroom success.

The unaccredited district had a 16.8 percentage point improvement on its state report card for last year, but that was 4.6 percentage points shy of the provisionally accredited range.

To earn a step up in its accreditation status, Superintendent Scott Spurgeon laid out a series of goals for the district in areas that ranged from college and career readiness to reading assessments.

The Rev. Sean Martin
Provided by Aquinas

Today, for the first time in the 88 years since the Dominican friars founded Aquinas Institute of Theology, a scholar and priest who is not a Dominican becomes its president.

Father Seán Charles Martin is the new Aquinas president.

“It is a big step for us because in our long history we have always had a Dominican,” the Very Rev Charles Bouchard said. He's the Dominican provincial, its elected leader, over 14 states from Michigan to New Mexico, who made today’s announcement in Chicago.

Normandy superintendent Ty McNichols
Dale Singer/St. Louis Public Radio

The detailed form used by Normandy school administrators when they visit a classroom to observe district teachers starts out by saying: “It was a joy to be in your room today.”

How widespread that joy will be as the school year progresses is hard to judge.

One month after classes started, the state-appointed board running what is now the Normandy Schools Collaborative has adopted an ambitious agenda from Missouri education officials that calls for steep, steady improvement by students in the next three years.

Mark Regester courtesy of the Documenting Ferguson archive

The library at Washington University in St. Louis is building a digital repository called “Documenting Ferguson.” The collection will provide the community with a space to save the media they’ve captured since the death of Michael Brown.

The online collection is open for anyone to contribute material.The archive will accept photos, audio, video, and written stories.

Shannon Davis is the Digital Projects Librarian at Washington University. She says it’s important to capture this material now before it disappears.

(via Flickr/evmaiden)

The Highland, Illinois teachers’ union reached a settlement with the district’s board of education late Thursday afternoon, ending a week-long teacher strike.  Students will be back in class Friday after missing six days of school.

In a press release, Highland Superintendent Mike Sutton said the new teacher contract is good for three years and includes a provision to make up the missed school days. With school back in session Friday, school-sanctioned activities are now back on the weekend schedule, including the high school football game.

Tim Lloyd / St. Louis Public Radio

Bernice King began her second visit to Riverview Gardens High School by telling students about her own anger. Her father, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., was gunned down in his prime. Her uncle, Alfred Daniel Williams King, died amid suspicious circumstances.

King told them about that anger boiling over. She told them about striking a friend in the head with a bottle after an argument. Anxiety filled King while waiting for her friend to wake up after being knocked unconscious.

King told students anger can consume them.

Webster U. website

Elizabeth Robb recalls that when she arrived as a freshman at Webster College from Hopkinsville, Ky., in 1961, if she wanted to leave her dorm room in the evening, a proctor had to sign her out.

When bedtime came – around 10 or 10:30 p.m., as she remembers it, “the proctor came around and made sure you were still in your room and turned off the lights in the hall and your lights went off as well.”

Tim Lloyd / St. Louis Public Radio

In November, voters in Missouri will decide whether to change the way teachers are evaluated and retained by school districts.

Under Amendment 3, teachers would be dismissed, retained, demoted, promoted and paid primarily using student data. It also would put a three-year limit on teacher contracts and prevent teachers from organizing or collectively bargaining on the design of teacher evaluations or how they’re used.  

DESE website

Now that she has announced her retirement at the end of the year, how should Chris Nicastro’s tenure as Missouri’s commissioner of education be graded?

Using the guarded tone of academia, Alex Cuenca, an assistant professor of education at Saint Louis University, gave this assessment Tuesday:

“I think she did the best she could with the circumstances she was given and the cards she was dealt.”

The response from state Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, who himself is about to leave public service after a long career in the General Assembly, was pithier.

DESE website

Updated 5:01 p.m. with reaction, more details.

Chris Nicastro, whose sometimes controversial tenure as Missouri’s commissioner of elementary and secondary education has been marked by efforts to improve urban schools and the transfer program out of Normandy and Riverview Gardens, announced Monday she will retire at the end of the year.

Stephanie Zimmerman

As legal efforts continue to open the Francis Howell school district to students who want to transfer from Normandy, a new policy shift has increased the pool of students able to transfer to any local accredited district.

The move raises new concerns about the financial survival of Normandy, which was taken over by the state after transfer costs drove it to the brink of bankruptcy last school year.