Normandy School District

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After complaints from teachers and others about how the initial year of the Normandy Schools Collaborative has gone so far, the state board of education wants to give more authority to the local appointed board.

Peter Herschend
DESE website

JEFFERSON CITY -- The Missouri state board of education voted Tuesday to put the search for a new commissioner on a slower track, then had a lengthy discussion about one of the big issues the next commissioner will face – turning around Normandy schools.

Rather than the accelerated process that board president Peter Herschend had favored, in which a successor to Chris Nicastro would have been chosen this week, the board bowed to objections from a variety of education groups that said such a fast track would have left them out of the process.

Entrance to Normandy High School campus
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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.

Timothy O'Leary, left, Duane Foster and Jermaine Smith discuss #WithNormandy, Sunday's community concert at Normandy High School.
Erin Williams / Opera Theatre of Saint Louis

“We are all one in song,” said Duane Foster, which is the idea behind Sunday’s #WithNormandy: A Concert for Peace and Unity.

The Normandy High School Choir, directed by fine arts teacher Foster, will participate in the concert at the school, along with an all-star cast of performers that includes Denyce Graves, Christine Brewer, Julia Bullock, Erika Johnson, Derrell Acon and Jermaine Smith.

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?

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.

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.

Francis Howell website

The superintendent of the Francis Howell school district says that if court rulings continue to favor transfers from the new Normandy Schools Collaborative, as many as 350 students could end up returning to Francis Howell.

Last year, Howell ended the year with 430 students who had transferred under the law that says students living in an unaccredited school district can transfer to nearby accredited districts. Normandy had designated Francis Howell as the district to which it would pay tuition, so most students who left Normandy transferred there.

Entrance to Normandy High School campus
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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 | file photo

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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In a closed session Wednesday evening, the Ferguson-Florissant School Board voted to accept students from the new, state run Normandy Schools Collaborative (NSC).  The board had previously voted not to accept students from NSC, which began operations in July.

In order to return to the district, students must have submitted an “Intent to Return” form by Feb. 1 and already have completed the registration and enrollment requirements.          

Stephanie Zimmerman | St. Louis Public Radio

After a hearing in St. Louis County Circuit Court Wednesday, Judge Michael Burton cleared the way for 13 more students to transfer out of the Normandy school district.

Burton had ruled last week that the Missouri state school board had acted improperly when it made changes that exempted students who live in Normandy from the benefits of Missouri’s school transfer law. As a result, he said, Normandy’s status should remain as unaccredited, and students should have the right to transfer to nearby accredited schools.

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A lawyer who won the right for five students who live in Normandy to transfer again to an accredited school went to court Tuesday to force the Francis Howell school district to accept all Normandy transfers who want to return.

It also asks that two students who attended Ferguson-Florissant last year be allowed to return.

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

(Updated at 9:19 p.m. Monday with latest cancellation in Ferguson-Florissant)

With adults cheering them on and the aftermath of violent protest just a few miles away, students began classes Monday in the new Normandy Schools Collaborative, hoping to put drama behind them and keep their sights on success.

“It’s nice to have a welcome back party for Normandy,” senior Breonia Gregory said as she walked through the parking lot toward the high school. “We’ve been through a lot. It’s nice to have something like this positive feedback from the community.”

Courtesy Parents for Peace

Updated 9:21 p.m. Monday with cancellation of classes in Ferguson-Florissant all week

The Ferguson-Florissant school district has postponed opening yet again, now saying school would not be in session all week and would begin next Monday, Aug. 25.

Earlier, the first day, which had been scheduled for Monday, was postponed for one day because of concern about students walking to school in a community disrupted by protest.

Jennings and Riverview Gardens had canceled classes for Monday as well.

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A St. Louis County Circuit judge ruled Friday that students from three families living in the Normandy school district have the right to transfer to nearby accredited districts.

Those districts – Pattonville, Ritenour and Ferguson-Florissant – had denied the students access in the new school year, even though they had transferred to schools in those districts in the last school year. But the families argued successfully that the state had improperly given the new Normandy Schools Collaborative a status that freed it from the requirements of the Missouri transfer law.

Entrance to Normandy High School campus
Google Maps screen capture

As a St. Louis County circuit judge weighs whether four families who live in Normandy have the right to send their children to nearby accredited districts in the upcoming school year, Missouri education officials are trying to clarify action they took recently that is central to the case.

Stephanie Zimmerman

The end of summer is coming for most area students, if it hasn’t already arrived, but the uncertainty over transfers out of Normandy remains.

The attorney for parents suing to allow their students to transfer out of Normandy accused state education officials Wednesday of using “linguistical magic” to change the rules by saying that the new Normandy district is accredited and Missouri’s transfer statute does not apply.

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

The new Normandy Schools Collaborative kicked off the new school year Monday by spelling out for teachers and other staff members how its new approach will help it regain accreditation from the state.

Part pep rally to generate excitement, part orientation session to set expectations, the three-hour session at Viking Hall on the Normandy High School campus was designed to show how things will be different now that the state has taken over the district with an appointed board and close oversight.

How was the session received?

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

The Normandy Schools Collaborative is looking for a fresh start. So is Andrew Nardi. He’s hoping the two desires fit and he’ll get his first teaching job when classes start next month.

Peter Herschend
DESE website

(Updated at 3:46 p.m. with revised transfer policy)

JEFFERSON CITY – With its president acknowledging that an earlier vote was an overreaction, the Missouri state board of education reversed itself Tuesday and broadened the terms under which students living in Normandy may transfer to nearby accredited districts in the upcoming school year.

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With two weeks to go until teachers report for the beginning of the new school year, the Normandy Schools Collaborative said Monday it has hired 80 percent of the staff it needs, from custodians to principals.

But just to make sure it hasn’t overlooked any good teachers who are still looking for employment, the district said it will be holding a job fair two days later this week.

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(Updated 1:29 p.m., Fri., July 18)

Even though the University City School Board has voted to change course and accept students who are qualified to transfer from Normandy, uncertainty surrounding the transfers remains.

Stephanie Zimmerman

Several parents of students who live in the Normandy school district filed suit in St. Louis County Circuit Court Monday, challenging the state’s move to limit the number of students who may transfer out of Normandy to accredited school districts.

Stephanie Zimmerman | St. Louis Public Radio

The Ritenour school district has become the latest to decide it will not allow students who live in Normandy to transfer there in the coming school year.

The decision, announced Thursday night after a Ritenour board meeting, means that 78 students who had applied to transfer from Normandy will not be able to attend an accredited district when classes resume next month.

In a statement released late Thursday night, the board said:
 

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

Now that the dramas of the state takeover and the uncertainty of student transfers have mostly passed, the board of the new Normandy Schools Collaborative started working Monday night on their main goal: Raising student achievement.

Missouri's education commissioner Chris Nicastro sat at the board table while some of her assistants presented detailed plans on how to evaluate teaching and learning. The five board members heard the state’s plans for turning the district around.

In their presentation, the process was described this way:

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.

Entrance to Normandy High School campus
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.

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.

(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.

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