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Education

With opening day of school approaching, Paideia Academy's future is unclear

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, July 13, 2010 - One day after a judge rejected its attempt to stay open, and with the opening of the school year little more than a month away, board members of Paideia Academy met Tuesday to decide their next move.

Results of the closed meeting were not immediately made public.

Board member Fred Robinson said that the board met to consider its options, though he would not spell out what they discussed. He also said that even with the start of the school year scheduled for Aug. 20, the academy set no deadline for making a decision.

"We're taking it under advisement and trying to figure out what we will do," Robinson said.

Other board members include Elbert Dorsey, Luther Bellinger and Charles Bussey, all of the St. Louis area, and Flora Morris Brown of California, who said she is a retired educator who grew up in St. Louis and was recruited by other board members to serve.

Originally, the school was sponsored by the Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla, but that sponsorship was dropped and never officially replaced, even though Lincoln University in Jefferson City had expressed possible interest. Later, citing low student test scores, the state took away the charter it needed to operate -- a decision the school challenged in court.

After hearing testimony on Friday, Cole County Circuit Judge Jon E. Beetem ruled on Monday against Paideia in its challenge of the state's revocation of its charter.

In his brief opinion, Beetem said that because Lincoln had never formally agreed to be the sponsor of the charter schools, and because state law requires that all charters have a sponsor, the school could not operate.

"No sponsor, no charter," Beetem wrote.

On June 15, acting on a recommendation by Chris Nicastro, commissioner of elementary and secondary education, the state school board voted 5-0 to revoke Paideia's charter. Because of that vote, the school could not receive the tax funds that all charter schools receive to operate.

At that point, Lincoln had submitted a letter of intent to serve as the school's sponsor. But the university's curators never took a final vote to approve the sponsorship.

Provost Annette Digby said that out of respect for the action taken by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, the issue was never put on the agenda.

Now, she said Monday, "it is a dead issue."

Lincoln has not sponsored any charter schools in the past. Digby said it had been interested in Paideia because "we felt there were similarities with regard to mission, and we had faculty expertise that would match their professional development needs."

The school has been open since 2002; it was known earlier as St. Louis Charter School. Its enrollment for the past school year was listed as 524. In its most recent test results, it fell far short of the level of achievement judged acceptable; you can read its report card on the MAP test here. Other data on the school are available here

It serves students in kindergarten through eighth grade and has operated at two locations, a College Hill campus at 2017 East Linton and a Carondelet campus at 7604 Michigan. Another charter school is set to operate in the Carondelet building this fall. Administrative offices are listed at 5223 20th Street.

On its website, the calendar section has not been updated since the 2007/2008 school year; a link says that enrollment material for the coming school year will be available soon.

Earlier this year, Paideia was listed among the worst schools in Missouri, in terms of test scores, making it eligible for federal School Improvement Grant money.

According to at least some parents, test scores are not the only place where Paideia fell short. In comments on a website where parents rate their children's school, a poster using the name stlmom wrote in May 2009 that her children had come from a parochial school and she had hoped they would get "a good education in a diverse environment," but over four years the family became increasingly disappointed.

"Bullying went on for an entire year (our son was the target)," the comment read. "Two weeks before school ended, the teacher was removed from the classroom. He learned nothing that year, other than the school was not safe."

On academics, the commenter said:

"Because MAP test scores are low, they push summer school enrollment. However, the administration isn't prepared to answer any questions about curriculum, teachers, activities, or schedule. Instead, they send out notices that children who return their enrollment forms early will be invited to a skating party.

"In spite of MAP scores being low, a teacher who did not hold a Math or Science certificate was teaching those classes."

Not everyone agreed with that person's assessment. In response, a commenter using the name DavidBSimpsonSTL (and complaining that the earlier commenter used a pseudonym) said:

"You mentioned that MAP scores are low. Wow, now that's breaking news! Have you reviewed the entire city school's MAP scores? Some are better than others, but they are all low! A quick review as to the reason most parents choose charter schools over their district schools is because their child is behind academically, doesn't feel safe of nurtured, or because of a specialized program."

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