Education | St. Louis Public Radio

Education

The playground at Shaw VPA Elementary School sits empty on Thursday afternoon, March 19, 2020.
File photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

When St. Louis Public Schools was unexpectedly forced last month to hit the pause button on the school year and close all its buildings, it also had to pause its efforts to decide which schools to close for good.

SLPS was about halfway through a multi-month process to reimagine its physical presence throughout the city. The original public forums were held, but Superintendent Kelvin Adams never had a chance to present a plan to the school board. Now, it seems like a low priority.

Brian Reed, an administrator with Rockwood School District, hands out laptops to students March 22, 2020, in preparation of remote learning.
David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio

Like parents around the country, Michelle Haffer never imagined having to become her child’s full-time teacher. But Haffer’s daughter is out of school and mostly stuck in the house.

And her daughter, Maddy, isn’t loving it.

“Well, she’s been struggling. It’s mostly the social distancing, in that nothing is open,” Haffer said.

Missouri has postponed April municipal elections until June, a decision that could have a long-term impact on metro school districts asking voters to approve bonds for construction projects.

North Kansas City Schools, the state’s third largest school district, needs to replace two elementary schools, build an early childhood center and add on to Staley High School. There’s also a backlog of deferred maintenance at the district’s oldest school buildings. 

Benjamin Yates, right, works on a puzzle with his mother, Tracy, and brother, Nicholas, at their Webster Groves home.
Dale Singer | St. Louis Public Radio

The summer slide — the propensity for students to lose academic progress made during the school year — is something educators have expressed concern about for years. 

With the region’s schools being closed until at least early April due to the COVID-19 outbreak, teachers and administrators are working to make sure such a slide doesn’t happen this spring as well.

Teachers at Cross Keys Middle School in the Ferguson-Florissant School District try to navigate Google Classroom as schools across the region prepare to move online for several weeks. March 16, 2020.
Ryan Delaney | St. Louis Public Radio

School administrators are scrambling to figure out how to move K-12 education fully online as schools throughout the region close their doors and tell students and staff to stay home to try to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

All public schools in St. Louis and St. Louis County along with Archdiocese schools announced Sunday evening they’ll close through April 3. Schools in Jefferson and St. Charles counties followed shortly after. Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker has ordered all schools in his state closed.

Students, staff and families of the Gateway school complex christen a walking path around the school grounds on Sept. 26, 2018. Gateway Michael Elementary School serves students in St. Louis Public Schools with disabilities.
Wiley Price | St. Louis American

Updated March 11 with additional budget info from SLPS

St. Louis residents could gain the ability to vote to join the Special School District of St. Louis County and significantly increase the level of resources for special education in the city’s public schools. 

The Missouri House of Representatives passed legislation last week that would allow one special school district to be annexed by another, essentially paving the way for a multistep process toward having a single, dedicated provider of special education for both the city and county.

Jessica Perkins, a facilitator with Emerging Wisdom consultants, runs a discussion during St. Louis Public Schools' first community visioning session at Clyde C. Miller Career Academy Saturday, Feb. 29, 2020.
Ryan Delaney | St. Louis Public Radio

The long and potentially painful process of restructuring St. Louis Public Schools’ physical presence throughout the city is underway.

The district held its first of six community visioning sessions Saturday morning. They’ll be followed by special school board meetings and more public forums in early spring.

A child grabs his backpack on his first day of preschool at the Affton Early Childhood Center on Aug. 13, 2019.
File Photo | Ryan Delaney | St. Louis Public Radio

There’s a swelling momentum to increase the number of children under the age of 5 receiving free early childhood education in the St. Louis region.

State funding for preschool remains minimal, but dollars are slowly growing and institutions are getting creative in ways to soak up more of those limited funds.

Schools across the St. Louis region will close to prevent exposure and spread of coronavirus.
File Photo | Ryan Delaney | St. Louis Public Radio

Webster Groves’ elementary schools would be less crowded and have unbroken attendance boundaries under a plan being considered by its school board.

But the changes that would take effect in 2021 have lukewarm approval from parents, with concerns over concentrating poverty in one school, walkability and home values.

Claudia Graham and Cassidy Stokes, both age 15, pose for a portrait at Normandy High School.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Cassidy Stokes thought it would be him, not his younger brother, who’d be the first to encounter a bullet.

“It just scared me, traumatized me,” the 15-year-old said about the time his brother accidentally wounded himself with a gun he’d picked up.

Claudia Graham, also 15, relies on prayer to get home safely every night. Her sister was shot and injured by an upset boyfriend “basically for no reason.” Guns scare her. People shoot before thinking, she said, but as a young woman, she’d carry one for protection.

Dr. Mark Schisler, a biology teacher, helps students prep a lab at Collegiate School of Medicine and Bioscience. Schisler was a chiropractor before switching to teaching.
Ryan Delaney | St. Louis Public Radio

There are pros and cons: Much less pay. But summers off from work.

As schools across the country struggle to fill science teacher positions, some educators say it’s time to persuade trained scientists and health care professionals to switch careers and come back to school, this time as teachers.

Students cheer during a ribbon-cutting ceremony for Rockwood School District's new Eureka Elementary School on Aug. 28, 2019.
Ryan Delaney | St. Louis Public Radio

Missouri has an updated rubric for measuring whether school districts are educating kids the way they should be.

The State Board of Education approved the changes at its monthly meeting Tuesday.

“It is an exciting day,” said Assistant Education Commissioner Chris Neale as he sat down in front of the board in Jefferson City.

Katie, an 11-year-old sixth-grader at Kairos Academies, works on an English assignment on a recent school day.
Ryan Delaney | St. Louis Public Radio

Running a new school is not all that different from any other startup business. There are surprises, pivots and changes.

Kairos Academies, an independent public charter school, is navigating its first year with two young, ambitious co-founders and an education philosophy unlike any other in St. Louis public school offerings.

A St. Louis Public Schools third grader takes a practice MAP state proficiency exam. The district has cut back on how often students are assessed at a third of its elementary schools.
David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio

Students grumble about having to take another test. Turns out, teachers do, too.

About a third of St. Louis Public Schools’ elementary-level buildings are assessing their students less often this school year, at the suggestion of teachers, with the hope of leaving more time for instruction.

The columns at the University of Missouri-Columbia. The college's recent expansion of an app that records students' attendance using their phone's location has drawn pushback.
File photo | Jason Rosenbaum | St. Louis Public Radio

The University of Missouri-Columbia is playing defense over its small expansion of an app that records students’ class attendance using their phones’ location.

Over the past week, national media attention has created a fervor of concerns about privacy and a move toward creating a “Big Brother” state on campus. But university officials and the app’s creator say the software does not constantly monitor a user's location or collect other data, but only knows if a student is in the assigned room or not.

Kaitlin Taylor from Senn-Thomas Middle School puts the finishing touches on her team's model city for the Future City Competition. 1-25-20
Jonathan Ahl | St. Louis Public Radio

ROLLA — Twenty teams of Missouri junior high students took a crack at solving a big problem: What will cities of the future look like as they try to address clean water shortages?

Future City is an annual competition challenging sixth through eighth graders to design and build a model of a city and present it to a group of judges. This year’s theme was “Clean Water: Tap Into Tomorrow.”

The teams gathered at Missouri University of Science and Technology over the past weekend to present their ideas and compete for a chance to represent the state at a national competition in Washington, D.C.

Students leave Dunbar Elementary School in the JeffVanderLou neighborhood. The school has space for 522 students but enrolled just 155 in September. Jan. 9, 2019.
Ryan Delaney | St. Louis Public Radio

James Gibbs remembers when the 522-student-capacity Dunbar Elementary School in St. Louis’ JeffVanderLou neighborhood could barely contain all his classmates. 

“It was maxed; it was capacity,” said Gibbs, who’s now 62 years old. “If it didn’t overflow, it was 500.”

That was in the early 1970s when St. Louis Public Schools educated 111,000 students. Last fall, 155 registered at Dunbar, filling just 30% of the available classroom space. The district’s entire enrollment has fallen to 21,500, including 2,000 pre-schoolers. 

Seven of the 21 Clayton High School students who will soon travel to Iowa to take part in the presidential races try to pose for a group photo. Jan. 8, 2020
Ryan Delaney | St. Louis Public Radio

Despite an entire semester of AP Gov at Clayton High School, Cassy Bennett still doesn’t know exactly how the Iowa caucuses work. 

“So I’d like to learn what that is,” the 17-year-old senior said, adding  through her laugh she doesn’t blame her teacher.

Bennett and 20 of her classmates hope to have a better idea of the quirky electoral practice after they spend the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend in Iowa volunteering for political campaigns and observing rallies. 

A student at Ashland Elementary School in St. Louis does a mindfulness exercise. The school uses the practices to help its children regulate trauma caused by violence and poverty. Jan. 8, 2019.
Ryan Delaney | St. Louis Public Radio

The crackle of gunshots has become white noise for children living in parts of north St. Louis.

“I got used to it,” a fifth grade girl said, “because it happen a lot, so I’m just not scared of it no more.”

They know just what to do if they’re inside: 

“When I hear gunshots, I duck on the floor and get under my bed,” said a sixth grade boy.

Jeff Konkel left public relations to become a middle school English teacher. He's a resident at KIPP Inspire Academy and will have his own class next year.
File photo | Ryan Delaney | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated Jan. 9 with information about teacher recruitment efforts

Missouri education officials have a handful of ideas on how to get more people interested in becoming public school teachers and then staying in the classroom for the long term.

It goes along with a nearly $400 million pitch to increase teacher pay detailed last month.

The six-point recruitment and retention plan reviewed and compiled by a teachers working group was presented to the State Board of Education during its monthly meeting Thursday.

Washington University's Institute for School Partnership's Math314 program is training teachers to take a more conversational approach to math instruction.
Elliot Haney | via Flickr

What is there to say about the number 7? It’s odd, it’s prime. It can be reached by adding 3 + 4, 5 + 2 and 6 + 1.

That may be how a teacher has a “math conversation” with young students under a new approach to math education piloted by Washington University’s Institute for School Partnership, called Math314. 

Students arrive at McKinley Classical Leadership Academy Middle School for a 7:10 a.m. class start time, one of 17 St. Louis Public Schools that start that early.
Ryan Delaney | St. Louis Public Radio

School at McKinley Classical Leadership Academy Middle School begins at 7:10 a.m.

If Lisa Manzo-Preston’s seventh grade daughter took the bus to the St. Louis public school, she’d have to be outside at 6:03 a.m. on the dot.

“That's impossible for us. That’s absolutely not something we're able to do because of her level of exhaustion and her inability to wake up in the morning,” she said. 

Brooklyn Grant, 13, from Spokane, Missouri, looks down range at the Student Air Rifle Program Tournament at Clever High School on Nov. 14, 2019. Brooklyn took first place in the middle school individuals girls category.
Daniel Shular | Missourian

While the sun is still up, gunshots ring out as Poplar Bluff High School's trapshooting team tries to get in a few extra rounds.

Head coach Sandy Pike gives advice as a new member prepares to aim his shotgun and attempt to shoot a clay target out of the air. She tells him to lift up his weapon, and, when he's ready, say the word to make the disc fly:

"Pull!"

The competitive trap season might be over, but that's not stopping the team on a Saturday evening in November.

Since starting in 2010, the trap team has grown from eight to about 30 members, and Pike said that's thanks to outside funding from the National Rifle Association. It's one of 80 K-12 and 4-H programs the NRA Foundation has supported over the years in Missouri.

Deborah Krause, a long-time faculty member and former academic dean at Eden Theological Seminar, will become the school's next president in July.
Mia Smutz-Ulmer

Eden Theological Seminary will soon have a female president for the first time in the school’s nearly 170-year history.

The seminary’s board of trustees voted unanimously Tuesday morning to appoint one of its own to the position, Deborah Krause. A professor and former academic dean at Eden, Krause has been a vocal advocate for social justice and racial equity in St. Louis, particularly in the years following Michael Brown Jr.'s death.

Maplewood Richmond Heights' Early Childhood Center is less diverse than the overall district, reflecting a decade of changing demographics in Maplewood.
Ryan Delaney | St. Louis Public Radio

The two-story house Laine Schenkelberg purchased on Maplewood’s Marietta Avenue in 2009 was supposed to be a starter home. A decade later, she shares the house with her husband, Eric, and their four children ages 7 months to 9 years, along with a cat.

When it was time for their oldest, Xavier, to begin school, the couple toured private options, but nothing felt quite right. Then a friend persuaded them to check out the Early Childhood Center, run by the Maplewood Richmond Heights School District.

Missouri State Board of Education President Charlie Shields, at a meeting earlier this year, was among several board members at Tuesday's meeting who questioned whether provisionally accredited districts should be reviewed and measured differently.
Ryan Delaney | St. Louis Public Radio

Only nine of Missouri’s 518 public school districts lack full accreditation from the State Board of Education. But some of those districts have been there year after year, struggling to boost their annual performance metrics high enough to prompt state school board members to bump them up to full accreditation. 

The state board accepted the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s recommendation to leave all school districts where they are at its monthly meeting Tuesday in Jefferson City. That keeps 509 districts at full accreditation and nine provisionally accredited. No school district is currently unaccredited.

College and graduation illustration
Illustration by Rici Hoffarth | St. Louis Public Radio

Future Maryville University graduates will still have the embossed piece of paper with the fancy font to hang on the office wall. They’ll also be able to flash their diplomas on their smartphones.

The suburban St. Louis institution announced this month it’s investing in blockchain technology to help its graduates be more nimble with their education credentials as they pursue advanced degrees or employment.

A fifth-grade student works with her classmates on a project about food insecurity at Ritenour School District's gifted learning center Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019.
Ryan Delaney | St. Louis Public Radio

In Ritenour School District, no single ethnicity makes up more than half of its students. But it has been facing a challenge that many districts across Missouri and the country share: Its gifted classrooms are whiter than the rest of the student population.

Jennings School District social workers prepare a recently purchased minivan Nov. 14, 2019. The district is using vans to transport homeless students, which has cut costs and improved attendance compared to paying for taxi cabs.
Ryan Delaney | St. Louis Public Radio

Jennings school students who are homeless and need a ride to school are arriving the way many suburban kids do: by minivan.

The small north St. Louis Country district of about 2,500 students began using minivans this fall to transport about two dozen homeless students to school. In the past, Jennings ordered up a fleet of taxi cabs. By switching to vans it owns, the district cut its transportation budget in half, improved attendance and reduced the stigma of showing up to school in a cab, administrators said.

Samuel Williams helps his two children onto the Jefferson Elementary School morning shuttle bus Friday, March 2, 2018. Williams said since it started in January, the shuttle provides safety and a routine for getting to school.
File Photo | Ryan Delaney | St. Louis Public Radio

It’s not unusual to see several school buses crisscrossing St. Louis neighborhoods early in the morning, each carrying just a few kids.

There’s a chance that soon, students who live in the same neighborhoods but attend different schools, whether KIPP or Confluence charter schools or St. Louis Public Schools, could all pile onto the same bus.

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