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Normandy Board Set To Gain New Power, Outsource Subs And Other Responsibilities

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.

At the meeting, the state board is also expected to discuss applicants seeking to succeed Commissioner Chris Nicastro, who has announced her retirement at the end of this month. The deadline for applications to be submitted was Monday.

State board President Peter Herschend proposed the new arrangement, which also gives the governing board new responsibility for raising test scores that were the worst in the state this year, last month in a letter.

“Though the State Board of Education remains responsible for the NSC,” Herschend wrote, “the JEGB has earned our trust. While we will afford you operational authority, the State Board of Education will continue to hold you accountable for improved performance.”

In a letter sent to Herschend and other state board members on Nov. 24 – the deadline set by the state board for acceptance of the proposal – the governing board's president, Charles Pearson, said the five members appointed to run Normandy as of July 1 accepted the new duties to oversee academics, personnel and the district accountability plan, which was approved by the state board in October.

Pearson also said the governing board agrees that Normandy will maintain submission of quarterly reports to the state and that monthly evaluations with an improvement team will continue.

While the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education will provide support when needed to achieve the district’s goals, the letter said it “will defer to the JEGB as the final authority in decision making.”

Pearson concluded: “We appreciate the opportunity to assume greater leadership as we move the district to reaccreditation.”

Since classes started in Normandy under the new collaborative, teachers and parents have complained about a lack of organization and support from the state. At an open house to introduce the governing board to the community, Pearson asked the audience whether things were better this year than last, and he was met with a resounding negative response.

Charles Pearson
Credit Normandy Schools Collaborative
Charles Pearson

In an interview Wednesday, Pearson said that the upcoming changes are a natural outgrowth of the establishment of the Normandy Schools Collaborative, which took the place of the old Normandy school district on July 1. Once the state-directed hiring and training of new personnel before the school year began in August, he said, he expected that the governing board would gain more authority.

That plan became clearer after members of the appointed board met with the state board in Jefferson City in October. After that meeting, Pearson said, the outline of the new arrangement was clear, and members of the JEGB had only a few questions before agreeing that it should be accepted.

Asked why the Normandy board did not discuss the response in open session, Pearson said no formal vote was ever taken and the district’s attorney did not think such a discussion was necessary. Pearson said the new arrangement will be a discussion item at a governing board meeting scheduled for next Thursday.

“This was not new information,” he said. “It was not something that was unexpected. It was something that was said from the beginning of our board in July…..

“We knew no matter what the situation was, we would have to end up doing the work…. The state is still a part of the collaborative. They’re saying okay, many of the responsibilities that we were assuming, you are now assuming.”

Outsourcing subs and Parents as Teachers

While the governing board will be taking on new responsibilities, it is outsourcing others.

Last month, it approved a contract for Kelly Educational Staffing, part of Kelly Services, to handle the recruiting, hiring, training and other functions for substitute teachers. Normandy will be the first district in the St. Louis area to work with Kelly for substitutes, though the company says it is currently working with more than 4,200 schools in 35 states and putting subs in more than 1 million classrooms each year.

Teachers in the district have complained about a lack of available substitutes, resulting in classes having to be taught by regular teachers on their scheduled break time when other teachers are absent.

At an initial presentation by Kelly to the governing board in October, questions were raised about how much experience the company has had in finding substitute teachers for districts like Normandy. After those concerns were addressed, the contract was approved in November.

Normandy has also agreed to a two-year, $812,000 contract with the Parents as Teachers National Center, headquartered in St. Louis County, to provide parent education to district families with children under the age of 5. It will operate the district’s program to hire, train and supervise parent educators and provide services for 60 families in this school year and up to 100 families next year. Parent educators will visit homes twice each month.

It will also provide developmental and health screening for 200 children, ages 3 and 4, who attend child-care centers in the area served by Normandy.

Parents as Teachers began in Missouri in the 1980s and operates in every school district in the state. Nationally, it has nearly 2,000 programs operating in all 50 states and six foreign countries, serving more than 250,000 young children. The arrangement with Normandy is its first where it will directly provide services under contract, hiring two full-time and one part-time parent educators and developmental screening coordinators in the first year.

“We are excited to be working with NSC and as part of the broader efforts to strengthen all facets of the Normandy community and its families,” Scott Hippert, president and chief executive officer of the PAT National Center, said in a statement.

“We know families will benefit greatly from receiving high-quality PAT services, which will help empower parents and will give children a strong start on the path to greater success in school and life.”

He added: “Research demonstrates that the PAT approach is a highly effective strategy that engages parents more deeply in their children’s early development and learning. It results in healthier children and families, a reduction in health care costs throughout life, more resilient families, and children entering school with higher social, emotional, and cognitive skills.”

Commissioner update

At a closed session in Branson Friday, the state board is expected to discuss applicants to become Missouri’s commissioner for elementary and secondary education. Nicastro, who has held the job since 2009, announced in September that she would retire at the end of the year.

Chris Nicastro greets Normandy students at the start of the school year.
Credit Dale Singer | St. Louis Public Radio
Chris Nicastro greets Normandy students at the start of the school year.

Applications that included a letter, references and a personal essay were to be submitted by the end of the day on Monday of this week. DESE declined to say how many applications had been received or give any other information such as where applicants are now working.

Earlier, the department had said that more than 40 people were nominated for the commissioner’s job by a nomination deadline of Nov. 21. Candidates did not have to be nominated to submit an application.

After screening applications Friday, the state board is expected to narrow the field to between three and five candidates whose names will be released this coming Monday. After conducting interviews with those finalists, the board will vote to choose Nicastro’s successor later this month.

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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