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Normandy schools making progress, but remain under state control for another 3 years

Parents and alumni wave signs welcoming students back to Normandy High School for the 2013 school year.
File photo: Tim Lloyd | St. Louis Public Radio
Parents and alumni wave signs welcoming students back to Normandy High School for the 2013 school year.

Normandy’s schools will remain under the control of a state-appointed board for three more years, education officials said Tuesday, adding that they are optimistic about students’ academic progress in the state’s only unaccredited school district.

“We have had steady progress in graduation rate and in academic performance,” deputy education commissioner Roger Dorson said at a Missouri State Board of Education meeting. “I think it would be an overstatement to tell you anybody believes we have arrived where we want to be, but we certainly are very interested in the progress made.”

And later this year, the Normandy Schools Collaborative could be given provisional accreditation, depending on its latest standardized test scores and other metrics, like graduation and attendance, which means the mandatory program that allows students to go to schools in other districts on Normandy’s dime could be phased out.

Normandy Superintendent Charles Pearson said renewal of state control — known officially as the Joint Executive Governing Board — is a vote of confidence that the district is making progress.

“The thing the community can take heart in is that we are here and we do plan to be around,” Pearson said in an interview. “And that has been validated by this process.”

Shontea Hurtson sends her son to Jefferson Elementary School, where he’s finishing second grade. She’s been to one school board meeting and feels a locally elected board would “get more involved” in the district.

Friends of Hurtson are surprised when they learn she enrolled her child in a Normandy school, but she said her experience has been positive.

“That’s where we are, we live in the district,” she tells them, “and for us it’s a good fit. At this point.”

Still, there are lots of parents that haven’t stuck around. The district is paying tuition and transportation costs — more than $6 million a year — for about 550 students to go elsewhere. Twice that many students used the transfer option in 2013, the first year it was available.

But Vic Lenz, vice president of the state education board praised Normandy’s test scores Tuesday, saying they were “up, way up” last year. If scores remain the same or improve, he added, “this board will be in position in December to present Normandy with provisional accreditation.”

Provisionally accredited status could also mean regaining local control of the district, Pearson noted. Yet, both St. Louis Public Schools and Riverview Gardens school districts have state-appointed boards even though their academic performance has improved beyond unaccredited.

Parents have less voice in a school system when they can’t elect school board members, according to Peter Franzen, the associate executive director of the Children’s Education Alliance of Missouri, an organization that advocates for parents to have more choice in schools.

“It means control is one more step removed from the community,” he said.

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @rpatrickdelaney

Ryan was an education reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.

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