Vashon Students Protest Over Substitute Teachers, Textbooks
About 100 students from St. Louis' Vashon High School walked out of classes Friday morning to demand more full-time teachers and better textbooks.
The students also were upset about certain school policies and the hiring of a new principal.
Vashon has been under scrutiny after it earned only 28 percent of available points on the most recent report card from the state.
Senior Alfred Montgomery said the school has too many substitute teachers and he is worried about performing on the upcoming ACT exam. So he organized the protest.
"I'm in a classroom being taught by teacher a who's not even teaching, teaching us how to watch a movie, teaching us how to make an F on a test," he said. "We're going into a test blindfolded."
Vashon has four full-time substitutes on staff, and access to another five daily substitute teachers who can fill in as needed.
SLPS spokesman Patrick Wallace said students should have stayed in school, and by leaving, missed an opportunity to speak with District Superintendent Dr. Kelvin Adams.
"They're not addressing an issue in the proper way," Wallace said. "They missed out on the opportunity to hear from the superintendent. I'm not sure they'll have another opportunity to do so directly with the superintendent directly like he did with the students in the building."
Students were also upset to learn their principal Terry Houston would be replaced on Monday.
During the walk-out and protest, freshman Rochelle Mason carried a sign saying "No Houston, No Peace."
"He’s a good principal, and he’s, like, the better principal I had," she said.
Wallace said Houston is "very popular" with students, but was leaving for "personal reasons."
"When a principal decides he can’t be the principal anymore, then we as a district have to move on and provide them with a principal," he said.
Students also called for better resources, including better textbooks and more of a variety in school lunches. Montgomery said there's too much focus on following rules and not enough on basic needs.
They focus more on cell phones and uniforms than...textbooks and calculators," he said. "They treat us like prisoners instead of students."
Under the district’s school transformation plan, Vashon is supposed to be receiving added resources and attention from central office staff. The plan breaks down schools into four tiers based on academic performance. Vashon is on a tier of schools called the “Superintendent Zone,” which have chronically low academic performance.
Superintendent Adams has pointed to the district’s plan to focus on schools with chronic academic troubles like Vashon as the linchpin for ramping up classroom performance. As it stands, the district is provisionally accredited and improved on its report card from the state for the 2013-14 school year. However, it turned in scores below the provisionally accredited range for both last school year and the 2012-13 school year under the latest version of the Missouri School Improvement Program (MSIP) 5.
Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro, who is retiring at the end of this year, has said that she would like to see multiple years of MSIP5 data before recommending a change to a district’ accreditation status to the state Board of Education.
After about an hour of protest, Montgomery said he had met with the superintendent about creating a student body team to address concerns. The students then quietly returned to classes.