Riverview Gardens School District should regain provisional accreditation, according to a recommendation from officials with Missouri's Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
The department released its endorsement Wednesday to upgrade the district that has been unaccredited since 2007. The state board of education will make its final decision based on the recommendation at its Dec. 2 meeting.
District administrators called it "a day of celebration."
"I can tell you that if there was a word beyond excitement, I would describe it in that way," said Riverview Gardens Superintendent Scott Spurgeon. "It will show a sense of confidence and restoring the academic honor that we’ve been working so hard to achieve, but it will also bring back hopefully that sense of pride in our school district and our community that we continue to provide that high quality academic program for all our scholars who deserve the very best we can provide."
He added: "It's a great day to be a Ram."
The district in north St. Louis County draws from such municipalities as Bellefontaine Neighbors, Jennings and Dellwood. Administrators last year asked for provisional accreditation after scoring within the fully accredited range on the Annual Performance Report (APR), but state education officials said they wanted to see more progress.
This year, Riverview Gardens again scored in the fully accredited range with 74.6 percent of available points in the APR, a slight drop from 79.3 percent the year before. But that decline, reported earlier this month, did not seem to factor into DESE's consideration.
"There has been a significant shift in the climate and culture in that school district," said Margie Vandeven, Missouri's commissioner for elementary and secondary education. "They are focused on improvement, and the community, the leadership, the schools are working very hard together to improve opportunities for children."
Spurgeon said his mission since taking over as superintendent in 2013 was "to restore academic honor and regain district accreditation." He said a "team effort" allowed the district to expand summer school and after-school programs, build community partnerships that provided resources, and push its nearly 5,400 students.
"Our scholars have really done everything that they’ve been asked to do over the last three years to really put us in a great position, and they’ve shown some tremendous improvement," he said. "On top of that list would be our professionals here in the district who have worked tirelessly to stay focused to remain consistent with the mission to continue to provide strong academic programs to increase our student performance."
However, DESE declined to offer a suggested date for when the switch to provisional accreditation should go into effect. There are at least a few options for an effective date: in January at the start of the second semester, the end of the school year or before the next school year.
That was news to Spurgeon, who said he expected the change to be made either immediately or by Jan. 1.
"My expectation would not be any different from any other district that has received a classification upgrade, that that classification upgrade would be somewhat either immediate or sometime within the 30 days of when the state board makes that decision," he said. "But that’s something that the state board of education has the authority to do."
Effect on transfer students
Vandeven said one consideration is how the effective date would impact transfer students. As an unaccredited district, students at Riverview Gardens had the option to transfer to other schools, at the district's expense. If the state school board approves the provisional accreditation recommendation, the legal right to transfer stops.
"We want to make sure that things are worked out for a stable situation for the students, and they would not have to transfer throughout the school year, and right now our superintendents are working together to establish a procedure so that can occur," she said.
As St. Louis Public Radio has previously reported, Riverview Gardens has put out a plan that would allow its 435 transfer students to stay in their current schools until they reach an obvious transition point. Spurgeon said that would avoid "a hardship for families."
"We felt it was the right and responsible thing for us to provide a transitional period for those students and families that are out in transfer," he said. "We came up with a plan and we worked collaboratively with the receiving districts to provide a system of transition for each of those families that are currently participating in transfer."
As the district awaits the state board's decision, Spurgeon said his focus is on continuing to improve his schools' performance in literacy, math and science. He said the district also hopes to increase the graduation rate among its seniors from 85.2 percent and among its Jobs for America's Graduates program participants from 94 percent. He also wants to add more money awarded for scholarships and advanced placement course offerings, as well as boost performance among AP tests.
DESE also released two other significant announcements among its recommendations:
- The Normandy School District will remain unaccredited.
- Any classification recommendation for St. Louis Public Schools has been postponed until the board's January meeting.
Vandeven said the delay is because the Riverview Gardens recommendation is likely to take much of the December meeting.
"We believe that our board would like to have a thorough discussion on that accreditation item, and we would like to allow plenty of time for that to occur," Vandeven said. "We do believe the district deserves an opportunity for us to look at them."
Camille Phillips and Dale Singer contributed to this report.
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