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Riverview Gardens schools continue to reinvent themselves

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Dec. 27, 2010 - Clive Coleman says he likes challenges -- and he's had plenty to face in his first six months as superintendent of the Riverview Gardens School District.

Before Coleman even took office on July 1, the state of Missouri had moved to take over the unaccredited district, putting it in the hands of a three-member Special Administrative Board. In essence, the old district ceased to exist. All contracts had to be redone, all personnel had to be rehired -- or not -- and all school assignments had to be remade before the start of classes in late August.

Given the short timeline, Coleman said, the district is not necessarily where he would have liked it to be as 2010 draws to a close. But, he said, new policies, stricter procedures and a stronger financial situation are on the way.

"This year was for coordination and reorganization," Coleman said in a recent interview, promising more details after the first of the year that will make the district seem brand new.

Vowing to take a look at "everything and anything," Coleman said: "Riverview Gardens won't be like Riverview Gardens next year."

Not everyone has been happy with the change in leadership and governance. Many experienced teachers did not get rehired, and Richard Thies, head of the district's chapter of the National Education Association, said morale is lower than he has ever seen it.

In a video posted to YouTube in October, Thies took particular aim at the district's disciplinary policies, saying that students who are disruptive are being allowed to remain in class so Riverview Gardens can collect the state reimbursement it gets based on attendance.

Between attending to unruly students and dealing with what Thies said is a higher paperwork load than ever before, teachers don't have the opportunity to give students the attention they need to learn, he said.

"We are constantly being told, 'You need to handle that in the classroom,'" he said in an interview, referring to the response when teachers complain to administrators about discipline problems.

"They seem to keep finding ways to make it worse for us rather than letting people find the time to get ready to teach the students."

Coleman said that new disciplinary procedures are among the changes his team is working on. But he denied that students are being kept in the classroom solely for financial reasons.

"It's not about keeping students in school to get money," he said. "Telling kids to go home for 10 days is a reward for some of them. It's kids who are using reverse psychology on us.

"We have got to put into place social and emotional programs to deal with students who are misbehaving. We need to be able to deploy resources to deal with their behavior. Telling them to take time off and come back with a better attitude isn't working."

After he aired his grievances, Thies was asked what the best thing was that he could say about the new regime this year at Riverview Gardens. After a long pause, he replied:

"That's a question I've never been asked before. I don't know that I can come up with anything."

Dale Singer began his career in professional journalism in 1969 by talking his way into a summer vacation replacement job at the now-defunct United Press International bureau in St. Louis; he later joined UPI full-time in 1972. Eight years later, he moved to the Post-Dispatch, where for the next 28-plus years he was a business reporter and editor, a Metro reporter specializing in education, assistant editor of the Editorial Page for 10 years and finally news editor of the newspaper's website. In September of 2008, he joined the staff of the Beacon, where he reported primarily on education. In addition to practicing journalism, Dale has been an adjunct professor at University College at Washington U. He and his wife live in west St. Louis County with their spoiled Bichon, Teddy. They have two adult daughters, who have followed them into the word business as a communications manager and a website editor, and three grandchildren. Dale reported for St. Louis Public Radio from 2013 to 2016.

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