'It's Not Enough': St. Louis Public Schools Tackles How It Can Do More With Less
The long and potentially painful process of restructuring St. Louis Public Schools’ physical presence throughout the city is underway.
The district held its first of six community visioning sessions Saturday morning. They’ll be followed by special school board meetings and more public forums in early spring.
Superintendent Kelvin Adams laid out a data-heavy case for why SLPS needs to overhaul how, and where, it educates 21,500 students across 68 buildings.
SLPS once educated more than 110,000 students and has been closing buildings for nearly three decades to keep up with a student population and overall shrinking city. Meanwhile, more independent charter schools have opened in the last 20 years and educate a third of public school children.
Having fewer students across more buildings, Adams said, “does not make sense, at least in my math.”
Under Adams’ tenure, the district has regained full accreditation and local control from the state education department. It also opened Collegiate Bioscience high school, a sought-after honors program.
“Frankly, from my perspective, it’s not enough,” he said.
The district continues to struggle to improve state standardized test scores and meet the needs of a high-poverty student body. Twenty-six of the district’s schools are less than half full. Northwest Law Academy, one of SLPS’ 14 high schools, has only 192 students enrolled.
“I keep asking that question, ‘What do we need to do better?’” Adams said.
Adams peppered a presentation to about 120 people at Clyde C. Miller Career Academy — the majority district teachers and staff, though some parents and alumni were there too — with stats on the financial challenges posed by running so many half-full buildings.
The oldest building in the district was built in 1895; the number of school-age children in the city has declined 18.4% since he was hired in 2007; students get picked up by buses starting at 5:17 a.m.; the longest a student spends on a bus to school is 67 minutes.
“I have the data, I’m not making this up. This is a real story,” Adams said.
The district could upgrade technology and add more honors courses and extracurricular activities, Adams contends. Teachers and staff could be paid more, bus routes could be streamlined.
“That’s hard to do when you’re spending money on buildings that are not full,” he said.
He also said students would have access to nurses, social workers and counselors every day. Right now, many of those staff members shuttle between two or three schools a week.
“I would love, love, love, love, love, to have every one of those resources in every building every single day,” Adams said.
After Adams’ presentation, attendees broke off into groups to share what they’d like to see happen in the district. Staff members talked about safer schools for students and staff.
Derek Anderson and his wife are building a home in the Hyde Park neighborhood, a few blocks from Clay Elementary School. Their son, Theo, is in preschool there, and their daughter should start next year.
“We had intentions of both of our kids growing up and being educated there and us supporting Clay any way we can,” he said.
Anderson said he’d like to see the district’s curriculum be updated but spent most of the session soaking up ideas and the data.
“Initially on its face, it seems alarming. But to me, it seems like there’s room for better utilization of the resources we have,” he said.
Jessica Dorner, a parent of children at McKinley middle school and Metro high school, liked an idea she heard to turn the schools into full community resource centers where neighbors can get other social services, rather than shuttering the schools.
“Now, I understand that would need an influx of cash. Where are you going to get the resources? Who’s going to be the great donator or funder who helps us do that?” Dorner said.
Adams has said no specific schools have been picked yet for closure. He plans to present the school board with a recommendation at its work session on March 24. Following that, the district will hold two more public forums. In early April, Adams plans to present a final proposal to the school board. The board’s regular meeting is scheduled for April 14 and its expects to vote then.
The five remaining visioning sessions are scheduled for:
- 6-8 p.m. Tuesday, March 3, at Vashon High School
- 6-8 p.m. Wednesday, March 4, at Metro High School
- 10 a.m.-noon Saturday, March 7, at Carnahan High School
- 6-8 p.m. Wednesday, March 11, at Soldan High School
- 6-8 p.m. Thursday, March 12, at Roosevelt High School
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