State education officials were in north St. Louis County Monday evening, getting an update on steps the Riverview Gardens School District is taking toward ramping up classroom success.
The unaccredited district had a 16.8 percentage point improvement on its state report card for last year, but that was 4.6 percentage points shy of the provisionally accredited range.
To earn a step up in its accreditation status, Superintendent Scott Spurgeon laid out a series of goals for the district in areas that ranged from college and career readiness to reading assessments.
“I want you to look at each other and say this, ‘are you in?’” Spurgeon said to a small crowd at Riverview Garden’s Family Community Resource Center. “You’re either in or you’re not, because there are no ifs, ands, or buts in this district.”
Many people who came to the public meeting were district employees, and some of the specific targets for this school year include:
- Improve graduation rate from 79.8 percent for 2013-14 school year to 85 percent this school year.
- Reduce student discipline incidents from 8,986 during the 2013-14 school year to 5,000 or less this school year.
- Students are given a reading test at the beginning and the end of the school year. Last year, 11.3 percent of first through fifth grade students who were behind in September improved to the proficient level. This year, Spurgeon said the goal is 20 percent.
- Improve the district’s attendance under a state standard called 90-90, which sets the bar at having 90 percent of students in school 90 percent or more of the time. Last school year, 78.5 percent of all district students met this standard. The goal for this school year is 85 percent. Students who miss 10 percent or more of a school year – roughly three and half weeks – are more likely to wind up with a string of academic problems.
Spurgeon said a focus on literacy and the back-to-basics approach of making all students show their work when solving math questions will allow teachers to spot and correct problems. Ultimately, he said, the district has begun laying a solid foundation for future gains.
“It’s a process of being very clear and articulate in the message of what needs to be done, what the goals are for this year, and what needs to happen to achieve those goals,” Spurgeon said.
And the clock is ticking. Costs associated with student transfers could threaten the district's financial footing. However, the situation for Riverview Gardens is not as dire as the one Normandy could be facing in the coming weeks. Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro has said student transfers could drive the state-run Normandy Schools Collaborative to the edge of financial insolvency as soon as next month.
In Riverview Gardens, Spurgeon said the strategy for avoiding financial woes is straightforward: Make enough progress to move out of the unaccredited range so the transfer law will no longer apply. If the district clears the threshold for provisional accreditation, Spurgeon said he’s optimistic that the successor to current education commissioner, Chris Nicastro, will recommend an upgrade in the district's status to the state board education. Nicastro is set to retire at the end of the year.
Meanwhile, 768 students are transferring to an accredited school district this school year. That’s down from 1,063 students last school year; last year the transfer program cost the district around $11 million in tuition and transportation costs. The 295 fewer transfers students is expected to save the district more than $3 million as compared to last school year.
Nevertheless, Ron Lankford, deputy commissioner for financial and administrative services for the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), said the financial toll of student transfers remain a significant concern.
“If they continue to have a significant outflow of money, there will come a time when the district cannot operate,” Lankford said.
Money concerns aside, the majority of speakers echoed Spurgeon’s bullish stance on the district’s future. Marcia McDuffie said she pulled her four boys out of private schools to attend Riverview Garden’s schools.
“I thank you all, I appreciate what you all are doing,” McDuffie said. “Because I know the struggle for you all is real, but at the end of the day, you haven’t thrown in the towel.”