Joint effort to help Normandy, Riverview Gardens impresses Nixon | St. Louis Public Radio

Joint effort to help Normandy, Riverview Gardens impresses Nixon

Aug 4, 2015

Gov. Jay Nixon says the regional effort by St. Louis area school districts to help Normandy and Riverview Gardens could not only lead to their regaining accreditation but could also strengthen public education in general.

During a visit to EducationPlus in St. Louis County Tuesday morning, Nixon heard an update on what is now called the St. Louis Regional Collaborative for Educational Excellence. The effort was announced in late June after lawmakers failed to include a cap on tuition districts can charge for students transferring from the two unaccredited districts. The collaborative includes $1 million from the state for intensified reading instruction.

Instead of helping Normandy and Riverview Gardens by limiting what they would have to spend on transfers, the more than two dozen districts in the collaborative are providing a wide range of education services, from training to curriculum to compiling and analyzing data.

A few days after the initial announcement of the collaboration, Nixon vetoed the education bill.

On Tuesday, he called the collaborative effort an unprecedented demonstration of the importance of making sure every child has the chance to get a quality education.

Gov. Jay Nixon, center, listens to an update on efforts to help Riverview Gardens and Normandy at EducationPlus. He is flanked by Riverview Gardens Superintendent Scott Spurgeon, right, and Nixon education adviser Mike Nietzel, left.
Credit Dale Singer | St. Louis Public Radio

“Education leaders in this region have stepped up, in real and specific ways, and marshaled their collective resources to improve opportunities for students in struggling school districts,” he said.

“In doing so, they are sending a clear message that this is one region, where every child matters and where all students deserve an equal opportunity to succeed.”

Nixon praised the leadership of the two districts – Superintendents Scott Spurgeon, who is beginning his third year at Riverview Gardens, and Charles Pearson, who became superintendent at Normandy earlier this year.

“That stable leadership – much like we’ve seen with the stable leadership of Dr. [Kelvin] Adams of St. Louis – is going to give confidence to people and confidence to those communities that these districts can regain accreditation and perform the responsibilities they have to educate kids,” he said.

“This is unlike what we’ve seen before,” he said. “This is a collaborative effort of the school districts of this region to use their strong teams to assist where needed at the local level.”

Stressing the strong link between successful schools and successful communities, Nixon noted that rather than having students transfer away from unaccredited schools, it is better to rebuild the schools where those students live.

“When you in essence destabilize that by sending kids away from their communities it makes it much more difficult for those communities to make the progress they need, especially in some of the areas where you have a lot of challenging economic issues going on anyway,” Nixon said.

He called on all districts – the ones that are helping and the ones that are being helped – to be transparent in their efforts, to help residents understand that when they pay taxes to their own districts and the funds are being leveraged to help others, everyone benefits.

And he praised superintendents who are voluntarily adding to their already heavy responsibilities.

“Everyone around this table already has a full-time job,” Nixon said, motioning to the superintendents gathered in a conference room for the update on the collaborative’s efforts. “You’ve agreed to take more. Thanks from everybody in Missouri and from me personally.”

Principles and partnerships

As part of the meeting, Don Senti, executive director of EducationPlus, led a discussion of the principles behind the collaboration. They included:

  • An understanding that Normandy and Riverview Gardens are in “turnaround mode” and the regional approach is aiming for “dramatic change that can be sustained beyond a two-year period
  • The impact of the work will be measured by incremental progress in the two districts’ accountability plans
  • The districts should work with outside agencies and organizations who can support the turnaround work
  • The collaborative “cannot become a bureaucracy, create red tape that will slow things down or divert attention from teaching and learning.”

Both Spurgeon and Pearson went over their districts’ plans to regain accreditation, concentrating on four areas that are the focus of state education officials: leadership, collaborative cultures, curriculum and assessment, and effective instruction. All of the assistance provided by the other districts is coming in response to the needs expressed by Normandy and Riverview Gardens in those areas.

Gov. Jay Nixon addresses area school superintendents at EducationPlus.
Credit Dale Singer | St. Louis Public Radio

Jen Tiller, chief academic officer for EducationPlus, said that so far, 291 opportunities have been shared and analyzed in conjunction with those districts, and some of them are already being put into place.

For example, both Normandy and Riverview Gardens are working with Parkway in a partnership involving training for new teachers and collaboration among administrators. And Normandy is working with Ladue and Pattonville to improve learning at Washington elementary school, with instructional coaching and administrative mentoring. Also involved is the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

The keys to these efforts, the superintendents said, are using closely watched data to measure progress and make mid-course corrections if necessary; setting clear goals and finding the resources available to meet them; and insisting on high academic standards.

Hearing those plans, Nixon urged all districts to make sure the public is kept aware of the progress being made, and not just numbers on a district’s annual evaluation.

“Parents don’t live their lives wondering what the MSIP5 score of a district is,” he said, adding:

“Success that no one knows about didn’t happen.”

Follow Dale Singer on Twitter for education news: @dalesinger