Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education

St. Louis Public Schools

As Missouri’s state board of education gets ready to hold the first of three mandated hearings on new standards for public schools, members of the groups charged with writing the standards say politics is starting to take a back seat to education.

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

The new Normandy Schools Collaborative has completed one quarter of its first academic year, but if the experience of one teacher is any indication, conditions in the beleaguered district have not gotten any better under the control of a state-appointed board.

Peter Herschend
DESE website

Updated 1:25 p.m. Wednesday with letter from MNEA president:

Amid indications that the Missouri state board of education may choose a new commissioner next week, school officials throughout the state have urged it to open up the process and consider a wider range of candidates.

The state board already has discussed in closed session the process to replace Chris Nicastro, who has announced her retirement as of the end of December. And the board has several more hours of closed session talks set for its meeting Monday and Tuesday in Jefferson City.

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?

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.

(via Flickr/MforMarcus)

Though the national Common Core state standards will still be used to test Missouri students for the current school year, the process to replace them with standards written by Missourians has begun.

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education said Friday that groups designated to come up with the new Missouri Learning Standards, as set up by legislation signed by Gov. Jay Nixon in July, will begin meeting later this month in Jefferson City.

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

Missouri education officials now say they will pay whatever tuition a receiving district charges for transfer students from Normandy, rather than a lower amount imposed earlier, raising new concerns about the state-run district's ability to survive financially.

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

Take a look at a statewide map showing how districts performance has changed between the past two school years, as well as five takeaways from the report cards.

While St. Louis Public Schools and Riverview Gardens have made solid gains in their push toward accreditation, Normandy finds itself in a deeper hole, earning just 7.1 percent of the possible points in Missouri’s latest list of school report cards released Friday.

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