St. Louis Public Schools Could Be Back In Local Hands In April | St. Louis Public Radio

St. Louis Public Schools Could Be Back In Local Hands In April

Feb 19, 2019

The Missouri state school board sent strong signals to leadership of St. Louis Public Schools Tuesday it will end its 12-year oversight of the district this spring.

State Board of Education members had all good things to say at the board’s monthly meeting regarding the district's turnaround efforts from its time of infighting, constant leadership churn and a large fiscal deficit.

“We still have miles to go before we sleep,” board member Mike Jones said, “but if we look back to how far they’ve come, we have shown that with commitment, focus, and discipline, execution at the leadership level, you can produce public education that works in urban districts for black children.”

Susan Jones, left, of the St. Louis Board of Education, speaks during a joint meeting with the Special Administrative Board last year. To Jones' right is board member Katie Wessling.
Credit File | Wiley Price | St. Louis American

The state board took over control from the elected board in 2007 and instituted a three-person governing board. More than a decade later, SLPS’ leadership and finances are more stable. Several academic metrics — including graduation rates and attendance — have improved, though the district has about 10,000 fewer students than it did at the time of the takeover.

Yet the law that stripped the elected St. Louis Board of Education of its power did not lay out how it would ever be reinstated, creating a fluid transition process after SLPS regained accreditation in January 2017.

The elected board has undergone months of training on school governance, even though it continued to hold elections and meetings during its decade of disenfranchisement.

The Special Administrative Board deemed its work done and the time right to return to a democratic board in January 2018, after forming a task force and holding public hearings. The final power to end state oversight lies with the state school board.

Richard Gaines, center, of the Special Administrative Board, speaks during a joint meeting with the St. Louis Elected School Board.
Credit File | Wiley Price | St. Louis American

“I’m absolutely committed, because that’s the way democracy works,” said board member Peter Herschend. “The way we’re set up in Missouri and the way democracy works is, it is an elected board.”

A vote to extend state control or dissolve it must happen by June when the current authorization ends. Board President Charlie Shields pointed out the board will hold its April meeting in St. Louis, adding “just saying.”

“Obviously I think you sense the direction this board’s heading,” Shields said.

KIPP charter renewal

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The state board renewed the operation of the KIPP St. Louis charter school network for an additional five years at its meeting.

KIPP is the second-largest independent public-school system in St. Louis, opening its first school in the city in 2009. KIPP, which is sponsored by Washington University, will open its sixth school this fall in the Fox Park neighborhood to serve elementary school students. It opened a high school in 2017.

Sponsors hold the majority of oversight responsibility under Missouri law, with the state school board approving charters, typically in five-year increments.

KIPP’s 1,900 students perform about as well as their counterparts in St. Louis Public Schools on standardized tests.

KIPP charter schools — shorthand for the “Knowledge Is Power Program” — began in 1994 in Houston and New York City and have since expanded throughout the country.

Correction: A photo caption incorrectly identified a member of the St. Louis Board of Education. Seated next to Susan Jones is Katie Wessling.

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @rpatrickdelaney

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