Normandy School District | St. Louis Public Radio

Normandy School District

Illustration by Rici Hoffarth / St. Louis Public Radio

Missouri lawmakers, with full GOP control of the legislature and governor’s office, seemed ready to pass a number of school choice bills when they gathered earlier this year.

Months later, they have nothing to show for it: No expansion of charter schools throughout Missouri, no creation of scholarships that certain students could use for private school and no overhaul of the student transfer rules for failing school districts.

Parents and alumni wave signs welcoming students back to Normandy High School for the 2013 school year.
File photo: Tim Lloyd | St. Louis Public Radio

Normandy’s schools will remain under the control of a state-appointed board for three more years, education officials said Tuesday, adding that they are optimistic about students’ academic progress in the state’s only unaccredited school district.

Ashley Mosely waves to the principal of Koch Elementary, thanking him for his hands-on approach at her sons' school during a public hearing on unaccredited Riverview Gardens Nov. 14, 2016.
Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio

If the parents and staff of Riverview Gardens were making the decision, the school district would soon no longer be unaccredited.

Parents, students, teachers and principals praised the district’s improvement by the dozens Monday night at a public hearing state officials held at Westview Middle School.

Normandy Superintendent Charles Pearson agreed to a list of principles to reduce suspensions on Saturday, May 23, 2015.
File photo | Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated Nov. 14 9:45 a.m. with results of the assembly — By the 2018-2019 school year at least four school districts in the St. Louis area could have policies banning out of school suspensions for their youngest students.

At a regional assembly on suspensions Sunday evening, the Maplewood Richmond Heights School District pledged to ban out of school suspensions for pre-K through 3rd grade next school year. Ladue and Normandy committed to doing the same the following year. St. Louis Public Schools enacted their own ban this school year.

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon talks to students at Moline elementary school in Riverview Gardens Monday, Nov. 7, 2016.
Dale Singer | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated Nov. 7 at 3:55 with Nixon comments: No Missouri school districts scored in the unaccredited range on this year’s annual report cards, but that doesn’t mean that the state’s two unaccredited districts – Normandy and Riverview Gardens – are automatically headed for an upgrade.

And among charters in St. Louis, one – Preclarus Mastery Academy – scored in the unaccredited range for the third straight year. Two others that scored in the same territory, with less than half of the possible points – Jamaa Learning Center and Better Learning Communities Academy – closed at the end of the last school year.

Children try out a stretch at the Pagedale Center  on May 20, 2016.
Criss Cross | Beyond Housing

A community development effort spearheaded by the local nonprofit Beyond Housing is being recognized as a national leader for supporting better health outcomes.

The 24:1 initiative, a collaboration between the 24 north St. Louis County municipalities within the footprint of Normandy Schools, has been awarded the Culture of Health Prize by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Riverview Gardens Superintendent Scott Spurgeon said he is optimistic the district will return to provisional accreditation, following a recommendation from the state department of elementary and secondary education board on Nov. 23, 2016.
Kimberly Ney | Riverview Gardens School District

Updated at 12:30 p.m. Sept. 30 with information on charters and standout districts — Superintendents of Missouri’s only two unaccredited school districts say the latest standardized test scores show their students are improving.

But state school officials caution that because the tests taken in the spring were from a different source from those taken the year before, year-to-year comparisons aren’t really valid, so there is no good way to truly gauge how much progress students have made.

Still, the superintendents in Normandy and Riverview Gardens are pleased.

The St. Louis Public Schools elected board discusses business during its June meeting as state board of education member Vic Lenz looks on.
File photo | Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated Sept. 14 with comments from Bill Monroe — The vice-president of the Missouri Board of Education warned the elected board of St. Louis Public Schools Tuesday night that if the elected board can’t work together then talks to transition district authority back could be put on hold until after the April election.

“We went around the room (during the state board meeting) and it was pretty clear that if we can’t have a working together meeting to make things happen, then we’re wasting our time,” state board vice president Vic Lenz told the elected board during their regularly scheduled board meeting.

teaching
St. Louis Public Radio file photo

After 25 years as a gym teacher, Annalee Zweig knows a lot of different exercises. But she had never encountered the hoops she had to jump through to get jobs as a substitute teacher.

Zweig subs in Parkway, where she taught at four elementary schools before retiring five years ago. This past year, Parkway — along with Normandy and Maplewood Richmond Heights — contracted with a division of Kelly Services, the temporary help company, to recruit, place and employ substitute teachers.

Normandy Middle School student Joshua Washington addresses Thursday night's public hearing
Dale Singer | St. Louis Public Radio

A year ago, Normandy residents were accusing Missouri education officials of failing to support their school district and setting them up to fail.

But just as the district’s score on its state report card showed great improvement last year, so did the public’s attitude at a public hearing at Normandy High School Thursday night.

State board President Charlie Shields and education Commissioner Margie Vandeven listen to Tuesday's discussion
Dale Singer | St. Louis Public Radio

After more than two years of sometimes contentious debate by lawmakers and educators, new Missouri learning standards won unanimous approval Tuesday from the state board of education.

Meeting in Jefferson City, board members stressed that the new standards — which replace Common Core standards — spell out what Missouri students should know in English, math, social studies and science at various grade levels. But local districts retain the authority and the responsibility to determine how those subjects will be taught.

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The superintendent of the Normandy school district says younger students there are making impressive gains, particularly in reading, because of learning strategies that influence them from the time they start school.

But older students still struggle, and their lack of progress concerned members of the state board of education who heard an update on the unaccredited district at their meeting Tuesday in Jefferson City.

State school board President Charlie Shields and education Commissioner Margie Vandeven listen to Tuesday's discussion.
Dale Singer | St. Louis Public Radio

In the wake of progress made by schools in St. Louis and Riverview Gardens, state education officials want appointed boards to continue in both districts for another three years.

Normandy N
Stephanie Zimmerman | St. Louis Public Radio

The long-running legal fight over the Missouri law that allows students in under-performing districts to attend school elsewhere heads back to court on Tuesday.

A three-judge panel of the Missouri Court of Appeals will review how the Missouri State Board of Education handled a classification gray area: How do you accredit a brand new legal entity? And did the state board have the authority to do what it did?

Students from Jefferson elementary schools cheer for the Normandy school board Thursday night, Jan. 28, 2016
File photo | Dale Singer | St. Louis Public Radio

On an evening when students in the Normandy Schools Collaborative expressed appreciation for their appointed board, the board voted to try to get more active involvement from the community at large.

Members of the Joint Executive Governing Board voted unanimously Thursday night to set up a community engagement group designed to help set long-term goals for the unaccredited district.

Stephanie Zimmerman

Even as hundreds of students living in the Normandy school district continue transferring to nearby accredited schools, challenges to a court ruling in the longstanding case continue.

The next court date will be Feb. 9 in the Missouri Court of Appeals. At issue is whether the state board of education acted properly in classifying Normandy as accredited when the district became the Normandy Schools Collaborative at the start of the 2014-15 school year.

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After two successes in the General Assembly and two vetoes by Gov. Jay Nixon, Missouri lawmakers will consider once more what changes can be made to the state’s student transfer law.

Sen. David Pearce, R-Warrensburg, who has been active on the issue as head of the the Senate Education Committee, has pre-filed one of three bills dealing with the transfers. St. Louis area Democrats – Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal of University City and Sen. Scott Sifton of Affton – have filed the others.

Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio

Accreditation, school transfers and issues of race and discrimination on college campuses have all been big stories in education in 2015. On Monday’s “St. Louis on the Air,” St. Louis Public Radio’s education reporter, Dale Singer, joined host Don Marsh in discussing some of the biggest developments of the year.

Beyond Housing

Pagedale, one of St. Louis County’s many municipalities, sits just north of University City. Recently, a new movie theatre opened there, called 24:1 Cinema. It is named for the 24 municipalities that feed one school district: Normandy.

Richard Ryffel, head of the appointed Normandy school board, listens to a small group discussion at the district's public hearing.
Dale Singer | St. Louis Public Radio

State education officials praised the Normandy school district Thursday night for the progress it has made over the past year.

Then the superintendent asked for ways the district could move even faster toward its goal of accreditation.

Riverview Gardens Superintendent Scott Spurgeon (center) talks with state board member John Martin (left) and deputy education commissioner Ron Lankford at the state school board meeting in October 2015.
File photo |Dale Singer | St. Louis Public Radio

JEFFERSON CITY — The superintendents of schools in Riverview Gardens and Normandy earned praise Tuesday from members of the state board of education for their solid progress on the latest Missouri school report cards 

Now, board members say, the districts need to get more money to help the momentum continue.

Riverview Gardens Superintendent Scott Spurgeon said he is optimistic the district will return to provisional accreditation, following a recommendation from the state department of elementary and secondary education board on Nov. 23, 2016.
Kimberly Ney | Riverview Gardens School District

For three of the St. Louis area's low-performing school districts, this year's Annual Performance Review showed marked improvement. But the success has not been even across the board.

While St. Louis Public Schools' score takes it out of the provisionally accredited zone and Riverview Gardens' improvements could be the first step toward regaining its accredited status, Normandy School District is still below the margin. The key to these districts' successes isn't universal.

Judy Baxter, via Flickr

Struggling school districts in the St. Louis area got some welcome good news with this year’s annual report card from the state.

Riverview Gardens, Jennings and St. Louis Public Schools all posted scores that would put them into the fully accredited range, with more than 70 percent of the 140 points possible on the Annual Performance Report (APR).

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It’s not just a change of names and grades that has made the Normandy 7th and 8th grade center a calmer place this year.

What used to be Normandy Middle School now has just two grades, with sixth graders returning to the district’s elementary schools. At a community forum held at the school Wednesday night, the consensus was that a school that had been in the news last year for a host of disciplinary problems has calmed down a lot.

Entrance to Normandy High School campus
Google Maps screen capture

From student suspensions to dirty cafeteria tables, concerns and complaints by parents and others in the Normandy school district were the topic of conversation at the district’s first community forum of the new school year Wednesday night.

Several dozen people gathered at Normandy High School for a 45-minute session where eight people spoke. The forums are designed to replace the opportunity for the public to make comments at meetings of the district’s appointed school board.

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Normandy school officials hope disappointing test scores from last year don’t dampen the enthusiasm they’re seeing for improvement in the school year just begun.

Presenting the district’s latest MAP scores – the first report since it became the Normandy Schools Collaborative, run by a state-appointed board – Superintendent Charles Pearson acknowledged to board members Thursday night that “these are not high scores to say the least.”

Entrance to Normandy High School campus
Google Maps screen capture

The debate over school choice touches on complex questions of individual merit, public responsibility, and the oft-cited ‘right’ to a good education. It also touches close to home.

Kindergartner Asia Boles holds out her hands for a backpack full of school supplies Saturday, August 15, 2015 beside her brother Javion Bell, who is entering 7th grade and her mother Annette Boles.
Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio

Normandy Schools kicks off its third year without accreditation Monday. Fellow north St. Louis County school district Riverview Gardens also remains unaccredited.

Saturday non-profit Beyond Housing held a resource fair designed to get families ready — and excited — for the school year.

Gov. Jay Nixon, center, listens to an update on efforts to help Riverview Gardens and Normandy at EducationPlus. He is flanked by Riverview Gardens Superintendent Scott Spurgeon, right, and Nixon education adviser Mike Nietzel, left.
Dale Singer | St. Louis Public Radio

Gov. Jay Nixon says the regional effort by St. Louis area school districts to help Normandy and Riverview Gardens could not only lead to their regaining accreditation but could also strengthen public education in general.

(via Flickr/albertogp123)

As August approaches and the back-to-school mindset takes hold, schools and parents typically wonder how students did last year and what adjustments may be needed when classes resume.

For Missouri schools, some of those answers are delayed this year. Even when they are available, their meaning won’t be clear, and that uncertainty is likely to persist for many years to come.

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