Normandy School District | St. Louis Public Radio

Normandy School District

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Missouri suspends African-American grade school students at a higher rate than any other state in the country.  This was a key finding in a national report issued last week by the Center for Civil Rights Remedies at UCLA.  But troubled districts have been making some progress.

Entrance to Normandy High School campus
Google Maps screen capture

The Normandy Schools Collaborative has hired a Chicago-area search firm to help find a new superintendent, but that person may not have an education background.

The district’s governing board voted Thursday night to hire ProAct Search for $25,000, with the goal of having a new superintendent in place by July 1. The district’s new leader would replace Ty McNichols, who resigned last month; Charles Pearson, who had been head of the appointed governing board, is serving as interim superintendent.

Stephanie Zimmerman

(Updated 3:09 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 19)

On Thursday, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education announced that it was changing the deadline for Normandy students to apply for transfer to April 1.

"In light of the court ruling on Normandy’s accreditation coming after the Feb. 1 deadline to transfer," DESE said in a statement, "the department is updating its student transfer guidelines.

Department of Elementary and Secondary Education

Missouri's top educator says the state may have to take emergency action in the wake of a circuit judge's ruling last week that declared the Normandy schools to be unaccredited.

In a meeting of the state board of education on Tuesday, Margie Vandeven, the commissioner of elementary and secondary education, said the board will consider calling an emergency meeting in the next month if the circuit judge’s ruling forces them to make any decisions on the district and its future.

Charles Pearson, seated, talks with Superintendent Ty McNichols.
Dale Singer | St. Louis Public Radio

Former Normandy school Superintendent Ty McNichols, who resigned last month, will continue earning the balance of his $180,000 annual salary through the end of June in exchange for serving as a consultant for the district.

File | St. Louis Public Radio

(Updated at 8:17 p.m. with reaction from Normandy and its interim superintendent)

In unusually strong language, a St. Louis County judge has ruled that Normandy schools are unaccredited and students who live in the district have a right to transfer to whatever area accredited school district they want to attend.

Entrance to Normandy High School campus
Google Maps screen capture

The new head of the appointed board in charge of Normandy schools says the board’s plan to search for a new superintendent is designed to find someone who can improve the district’s academic performance.

Andrea Terhune took over as chair of the Normandy Schools Collaborative’s Joint Executive Governing Board last month, when Superintendent Ty McNichols unexpectedly resigned and Charles Pearson stepped down as chair to become interim superintendent.

File | St. Louis Public Radio

As one north St. Louis County school district begins its search for a new superintendent – its fourth leader in a little more than two years – its neighbor is about to decide who will replace a superintendent whose departure created a storm of controversy.

Charles Pearson, seated, talks with Superintendent Ty McNichols.
Dale Singer | St. Louis Public Radio

As the Normandy Schools Collaborative begins the process of finding a replacement for Superintendent Ty McNichols, its board is finalizing details of a severance package and educators are wondering who might be available to take his place.

Courtesy Normandy School District

(Updated at 9:32 p.m. with Pearson quotes, resignation statement from McNichols)

Normandy school superintendent Ty McNichols resigned from his post Thursday night after the state-appointed board that runs the district made plans to begin a search for someone to serve in his job.

Charles Pearson, a retired educator who had been serving as chairman of the five-member Joint Executive Governing Board, will take over as interim superintendent. He resigned from the board and was replaced as board president by Andrea Terhune.

The St. Louis Classical Guitar Society wants to help the Ferguson healing process, one guitar at a time.

Through grants, the Ferguson Guitar Initiative is donating guitars and lessons to fifth- and sixth-grade students in the Normandy and Ferguson-Florissant school districts starting next week.

The Normandy Schools Collaborative has hired Diana Bourisaw, former superintendent for the St. Louis Public Schools and the Fox School district, for a six-month consulting contract to help improve the district’s lagging academic performance.

Peter Herschend
DESE website

The Missouri state board of education has a field of 14 candidates from which to choose the state’s new commissioner of elementary and secondary education.

After the board’s open meeting in Branson Thursday, where it approved added responsibility for the appointed school board that is running the Normandy Schools Collaborative, board president Peter Herschend said in a telephone interview that the applications of the 14 people who want to succeed retiring Commissioner Chris Nicastro would be reviewed in a closed session on Friday.

Stephanie Zimmerman

As the appointed board that runs the new Normandy Schools Collaborative is about to take on new responsibilities for personnel decisions and improved academic achievement, it is working with outside agencies to find substitute teachers and help its littlest residents on the road to learning.

Following acceptance by the Joint Executive Governing Board of a proposal that it be in charge of evaluating, hiring and disciplining personnel, the state board of education is expected to approve the new plan at its meeting Thursday in Branson.

File | St. Louis Public Radio

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
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.

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
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.
File | 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.

File | St. Louis Public Radio

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.

File | St. Louis Public Radio

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.
File | Stephanie Zimmerman | St. Louis Public Radio

(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.

File | St. Louis Public Radio

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.

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