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Kelvin Adams selected superintendent of St. Louis Public Schools

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: September 26, 2008 - For the seventh time in six years, a St. Louis city school board has put a new face in the superintendent's office. The latest appointee is Kelvin Adams, former chief of staff for the Recovery School District in New Orleans. The Special Administrative Board selected him Thursday night over two other candidates.

Adams' selection had been expected partly because he once worked in the St. Louis school system. During the 2006-07 school term, he headed the human resources department.

The other two candidates were Donnie Evans, former superintendent in Providence, R.I.; and Eric Becoats, formerly co-interim superintendent of Guilford County Schools in Greensboro, N.C.

The decision to hire Adams apparently will widen the gap between the appointed board and the elected board. The former was set up to run city schools after the state took control of the system. Some members of the elected board, including Bill Purdy and Peter Downs, criticized Adams' appointment because he lacks experience as a superintendent. They also said the appointed board performed a disservice by searching for a superintendent late in the year, after most good ones already had taken jobs.

But Rick Sullivan, chief executive for the appointed board, disagreed, pointing to Adams' "hands-on role in improving student achievement." Sullivan adds that Adams "has an unblemished record."

That, apparently, couldn't be said of the two other candidates. Before taking the job in Greensboro, Becoats had worked in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg district in Charlotte, N.C. There he was accused of misusing computers, telephones and employees to run a personal consulting business.

While running Providence schools, Evans came under fire last December after more than 100 children were stranded on buses during a snowstorm.

Adams said in a statement Thursday that he was "greatly honored" to get the job and promised to work with everybody to improve the city school system.

When he visited St. Louis recently, Adams promised to work to improve test scores and didn't rule out adding charter schools to the mix.

"I will be open to doing what is right to improve students achievement," he said. "I believe in choice, in competition. That's what charters are. I view them as an opportunity to create competition. I'm supportive of student achievement by whatever vehicle that achievement takes."

Purdy, Downs and some parents also had criticized the board for not retaining Diane Bourisaw, the system's outgoing superintendent. She left the system after rejecting the special board's offer to reapply for the job. Following her departure, the special board selected John Wright, former superintendent of Normandy Schools, to run the city system until a new superintendent was chosen.

The city school system has been a work in progress, with plenty of turmoil since 2003, when the school board appointed a business turnaround specialist, William Roberti, as the system's first nontraditional superintendent.

With his business background -- he formerly headed Brooks Brothers -- Roberti focused more on the budget than academics. He and the board had argued that the first challenge was to stabilize the system's finances. To that end, Roberti cut spending, eliminated jobs and closed schools. His actions outraged many community residents and led to protests at each school board meeting. Five other people, excluding Adams, have held the job since Roberti's departure.

Robert Joiner has carved a niche in providing informed reporting about a range of medical issues. He won a Dennis A. Hunt Journalism Award for the Beacon’s "Worlds Apart" series on health-care disparities. His journalism experience includes working at the St. Louis American and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, where he was a beat reporter, wire editor, editorial writer, columnist, and member of the Washington bureau.

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