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Education

McCormack Lake in the Mark Twain National Forest. Nearly 100 Missouri school districts contain parts of the federal land but can't collect property taxes on it.
doc jayhawk | Flickr

Superintendent Tim Hager’s district in central Missouri is surrounded by federal forestland in every direction.

School buses shuttle some of the 366 students in the Iron County C-4 School District between their homes dotted throughout the national forestland and the school campus in the small town of Viburnum.

The drive on tough gravel roads beats the buses up, Hager said, but he hasn’t been receiving the big checks from the U.S. Forest Service he once got, so he’s putting off buying a new bus.

A boy named LaRon enjoys a class at the former Intersect Arts Center building, before the organization moved into its new renovated space.
Intersect Arts Center

St. Louis artist Sarah Bernhardt had no idea she’d be teaching children when she first moved into her Gravois Park studio. But that changed after a rock sailed through her window and she invited a teenager with a good throwing arm to come inside for an art project.

That was five years ago, in the early days of her Intersect Arts Center, 3636 Texas Ave. A $3 million renovation recently transformed the center, but the commitment to free art classes for local kids remains a cornerstone.

A parent listens during an information session on using 529 savings plans for private K-12 education at St. Pius X High School in Festus Tuesday, march 6, 2018.
Ryan Delaney | St. Louis Public Radio

Parents with children in private schools are filling gymnasiums and cafeterias to learn how they can take advantage of a new tax break to save money on tuition.

Traditionally, so-called 529 plans were a way for parents to stash money away to pay for their child’s college education, without having to pay taxes on the gains. The federal tax overhaul plan enacted late last year changed rules around 529 plans so they can also be used to pay for private K-12 school tuition, up to $10,000 a year.

Samuel Williams helps his two children onto the Jefferson Elementary School morning shuttle bus Friday, March 2, 2018. Williams said since it started in January, the shuttle provides safety and a routine for getting to school.
Ryan Delaney | St. Louis Public Radio

Most students at Jefferson Elementary live within a mile of the school, meaning they’re within walking distance under St. Louis Public Schools’ transportation policy.

Yet Jefferson’s principal, Kristen Taylor, said kids in the near north side Carr Square neighborhood were often late or didn’t show up at all. Attendance for the school’s roughly 225 students at the end of the first semester was nearly 20 percent below the state’s desired 90-percent level for schools.

Niah Ester and Anjali Adhikari pose for a portrait at the annual Educators for Social Justice conference.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

When Anjali Adhikari and Niah Ester teamed up for a class project last summer, they had one goal – to teach educators at Northeast Middle School all about microaggressions.

The seventh graders never imagined their work would make it from their Creve Coeur school into classrooms across the St. Louis region. But since then, they’ve created and led training sessions for dozens of teachers, counselors and school administrators.

A Parkway Central High School student signs a petition calling for efforts to make schools safer during an after-school press conference Friday, Feb. 23, 2018.
Ryan Delaney | St. Louis Public Radio

School counselors in Missouri already have high student caseloads and added duties, even as teachers, students and parents here and around the country call for more mental health services in schools to prevent future mass shootings.

Missouri, and most other states, have a shortage of school guidance counselors — and limited money to hire more.

Sasha Walchli, an English language teacher at Parkway's Green Trails Elementary, works with third-graders on learning continents. Walchi has 43 students at the school, twice as many as when she started 10 years ago.
Ryan Delaney | St. Louis Public Radio

Radi and Hadi Hamdan’s English is getting better, slowly. Sitting in the living room of their Florissant home on a recent evening, they struggled to get through more than introducing themselves before switching back to Arabic.

The 12-year-old twins moved to the northern St. Louis suburb from the West Bank last summer, finally reuniting with their father, who has lived in the United States for two decades.

The twins are seventh-graders in Hazelwood School District’s West Middle School. Radi likes art class. Hadi’s favorite subject is math. They also need intense English-language instruction in order to follow other courses.

Jamaiyah Redmond and Chloé Guerin, both Clayton High School juniors, while listening to classmates call for school safety improvements Friday, Feb. 23, 2018.
Ryan Delaney | St. Louis Public Radio

High school students in St. Louis are lending their voice to the national debate about making schools safer.

On Friday morning, a few dozen student from Clayton High School trudged across a soggy field in front of their school and called for an assault-weapons ban in Missouri and money for security upgrades to schools.

McCluer High School theater students rehearse “Man of La Mancha” at the Florissant Civic Center. Feb. 21, 2018
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

St. Louis schoolchildren in well-funded school districts often enjoy newer amenities like updated textbooks and newer technology. They may also have an advantage when it comes to the arts.

The disparity of resources is illustrated by theater departments at two local high schools. Clayton High School, whose students are mostly white, gets more help from the district and the community. In Florissant, predominantly African-American McCluer High School largely relies on the theater director, Doug Erwin, for funding.

Ty'Chila Thomas answers trivia questions during a L.O.V.E Project session at Lafayette High School in Wildwood. Feb. 14, 2018
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

For three years Shante Duncan has facilitated The L.O.V.E. Project with freshman girls at Lafayette High School in Wildwood. She talks to the girls about school and anything else they want to share about their personal lives.

This month, Duncan centered the session around important African-American females, from Ida B. Wells to Henrietta Lacks, a black woman whose cervical cancer cells advanced medical research.

SLPS science teachers Ninfa Matiase, LaJuana Stidmon and Jeremy Resmann practice an experiment Aug. 3, 2016 during training provided by the National Math and Science Initiative.
Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio

Within five years of being in a St. Louis Public Schools classroom, nearly half of teachers leave the district.

Now SLPS is considering adopting the St. Louis Teacher Residency Program in an effort to retain new teachers. Recruits would spend a full school year embedded in a classroom shadowing an experienced teacher while also earning their teaching certificate.

Shannan Muskopf | flickr

A growing list of Missouri school leaders are organizing to push for changes to the way their students are tested, saying the current model is in constant flux and doesn’t provide useful feedback on student learning.

The end-of-year exams that have become emblematic to public education are an “archaic and broken process,” said Rockwood School District Superintendent Eric Knost, an outspoken critic of standardized testing.

Students at the Hawthorn Leadership School for Girls on May 12, 2017, a St. Louis charter school that opened in 2015.
File photo | Ryan Delaney | St. Louis Public Radio

Missouri lawmakers are making another attempt at expanding independent charter schools outside of the state’s two major cities, this time with a more narrow focus.

The House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee on Monday voted 7-6 to advance a charter school expansion bill. The legislation allows charter schools to go head-to-head with struggling schools but not entire districts.

Illustration by Rici Hoffarth | St. Louis Public Radio

Gov. Eric Greitens is proposing a $6.5 million increase to Missouri’s student financial aid programs, a modest boost amid his desire to cut $68 million in direct funds to the state’s public colleges and universities.

The state’s Department of Higher Education gave 64,500 students attending in-state schools about $128.5 million last year in the form of three grants: Access Missouri, a financial need-based grant; Bright Flight, a merit-based scholarship; and the A+ Scholarship, providing free community college to students completing 50 hours of community service in high school.

Charles Robinson, right, a deputy juvenile officer in the St. Louis Family Court's truancy unit, leaves Roosevelt  High School with a student in his caseload who got into a fight and was suspended.
Ryan Delaney | St. Louis Public Radio

Charles Robinson’s morning is already upended.

With a rap on the wooden door of his small office, he learns the mother of a child in his caseload overdosed on drugs the night before.

He had planned to do home visits with a middle school social worker. With a few deep breaths, Robinson collects himself. Then moments later, a phone call interrupts again.

St. Louis city students ride a Voluntary Interdistrict Choice Corporation, VICC, school bus on May 11, 2017.
File photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Jeanie Ames is running for the Parkway school board on a manifesto of good taxpayer stewardship and continued academic excellence where “all learners ... feel safe, appreciated, and challenged.”

But several parents say Ames’ social media postings portray someone with racist viewpoints.

She is among five candidates who filed last week to run for the Parkway Board of Education. Kevin Seltzer, Jonathan Taylor, Matthew Schindler and Amy Bonnett are also running. Ames' candidacy is igniting an unusually high level of interest for a school board race still months away.

Students at Adams Elementary in St. Louis Sept 2016
File photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

State authority of the St. Louis Public School district has accomplished its job and it’s time for a return to local control, according to the district’s appointed board. But it’s not clear when that could happen.

In a unanimous vote Thursday evening, the three-person Special Administrative Board approved a motion to return authority of the district to the St. Louis Board of Education, which is elected but powerless, after a decade of state control.

Addie Bond, a St. Louis parent, Special Administrative Board member Richard Gaines and legal counsel Jonathan Dalton listen to a presentation during a governance task force meeting Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2018.
Ryan Delaney | St. Louis Public Radio

A task force on the future governance of St. Louis’ public schools says control of the district should eventually return to local, democratic oversight, but members struggled to agree on much else.

In a meeting that began at noon and lasted well into Wednesday evening, a committee assigned with determining St. Louis Public Schools’ future recommended the restoration of an elected school board, but with the caveat that in seven years voters would get to choose whether to keep that elected board.

Quinn Dombrowski | Flickr

Missouri is set to increase the amount it spends on public preschool, but education officials say even if the funds are put in the next budget, the small increase will have only a marginal impact.

By hitting a benchmark for education funding during last year’s budget process, state lawmakers set off a provision that requires more funding for pre-K in the following fiscal year.

Illustration by Rici Hoffarth | St. Louis Public Radio

Goodwill, the nonprofit organization best known for its thrift stores, will operate a network of adult high schools across Missouri, with its first scheduled to open in St. Louis in October.

MERS Goodwill, the Missouri and southern Illinois branch of the job training agency, announced Tuesday it won a contract with Missouri education officials to open four schools.

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