Education | St. Louis Public Radio

Education

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.

Yeatman-Liddell Middle School students listen to Excelsior Program instructor Nate Oatis.
Tonina Saputo | St. Louis Public Radio

At a 2017 funeral service for a student at Yeatman-Liddell Preparatory Middle School in north St. Louis, Nate Oatis noticed a young friend of the victim trying not to cry. 

“I could feel the gentleman’s energy, [this] 13- to 14-year-old trying to process the death of another 13- to 14-year-old due to gun violence. As he tried to bottle that energy, that intense emotion that really needed to spill, I put my arms around him and embraced him, and he absolutely melted,” Oatis said. “It broke my heart to think that a child doesn’t have the ability to vent those types of frustrations.”

St. Louis College Prep charter school is expected to graduate its first senior class this summer. The Missouri State Auditor has agreed to investigate the school's attendance reporting.
File photo | Ryan Delaney | St. Louis Public Radio

The founder and leader of St. Louis College Prep submitted phony attendance sheets to the state education department for several years in order to funnel more than $1.4 million to his charter school fraudulently, a state audit released Tuesday found.

St. Louis College Prep, an independent public charter school, shuttered in May after graduating its first senior class. Its founder, Mike Malone, resigned last November after the school’s sponsor and board confronted him regarding the financial irregularities. 

While the Mark Twain National Forest and other federal forest land generates profits, the federal government doesn't pay property taxes. An alternative fund-sharing agreement between schools and the federal government has lapsed.
Kbh3rd | via Flickr

Dozens of rural Missouri school districts are crying “timber” after Congress allowed legislation that sends half of federal timber profits to schools lapse again.

That includes the Alton School District in Oregon County, not far from the Arkansas border, where Superintendent Eric Allen said the district will have to consider staff cuts if the funding isn’t renewed over the winter.

Sonja Brewer, center, works with a gifted learning student March 7, 2018, at Washington Elementary School in Normandy. The gifted program was restored this school year.
File Photo | Ryan Delaney | St. Louis Public Radio

The Missouri State Board of Education took steps Tuesday toward putting more counselors and support staff in the state’s public schools.

Counselors in Missouri currently serve an average of 347 students, according to the American School Counselor Association. That’s under the state requirement of a ratio of one counselor per 400 students but significantly higher than its recommendation of a counselor serving 250 students each.

Ninth graders take notes during a social studies class at the recently opened KIPP St. Louis High School on Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2017.
File Photo | Ryan Delaney | St. Louis Public Radio

How the Missouri education department measures student comprehension and school performance is complicated. The manual for determining a school’s performance is dozens of pages long. 

Making it even more complex, students have taken four different sets of tests in six years. Just when the test saw stability, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education overhauled the way it presents school performance (in short, it got more colorful and less numerical).

We had the headlines for what to make of this year’s Annual Performance Reports and Missouri Assessment Program tests. But now that there’s been time to digest the data, here are takeaways:

David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio

Missouri schools are getting a different kind of report card from the state. It's now color coded instead of offering a numerical grade.

The Annual Performance Report is the state’s way of showing how school districts are doing. After years of providing a percentile score that conveyed how school districts ranked, this year’s APR instead uses color-coded bar graphs that measure not only how students did on state tests, but how much they improved.

Erica Williams is the founder and executive director of A Red Circle; David Dwight is the lead strategy catalyst at Forward Through Ferguson; and Colin Gordon is the author of "Citizen Brown."
EVIE HEMPHILL / ST. LOUIS PUBLIC RADIO

In 2008, with his book “Mapping Decline,” history professor Colin Gordon brought context to the issues of vacant houses, boarded-up storefronts and abandoned factories in the St. Louis region.

Gordon’s new book, "Citizen Brown: Race, Democracy, and Inequality in the St. Louis Suburbs," digs into how municipal boundaries and school district lines were drawn to exclude and how local policies and services were weaponized to maintain civic separation.

School robotics competitions like this one at Missouri S&T in 2016 can help students develop an interest in STEM fields. 3/15/16
Sam O'Keefe | Missouri S&T

ROLLA — Rural Missouri school districts short on money sometimes struggle with teaching the three R's, so the idea of adding advanced science and technology instruction can be daunting.

A $250,000 state grant through Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla is helping 41 school districts in 10 counties in south-central Missouri bolster their offerings.

Leslie Forsythe, a substitute teacher at the Affton Early Childhood Center, coaxes a student into a classroom on the first day of school Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2019.
File photo| Ryan Delaney | St. Louis Public Radio

School districts in St. Louis are trying new ways to get a qualified adult in classrooms when the teacher is out.

Districts have employed technology, pay bumps and advertising as they compete for a small pool of people willing to supervise students in a pinch.

Chancellor Andrew Martin greets the crowd at his inauguration event at Washington University on Thursday afternoon. Oct. 3, 2019
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Regional students from low-income and middle-class backgrounds will be able to attend Washington University completely free under a major expansion of financial assistance by the prestigious university.

When it starts next year, the Wash U Pledge will be available to students from Missouri and the southern half of Illinois with household incomes below $75,000, which is roughly triple the federal poverty line for a family of four. The full cost of a Wash U education is about $72,000 a year with tuition, room and board and fees.

Kits Could Help Kids Survive Life-Threatening Injury

Sep 10, 2019
STOP the Bleed is a national campaign to equip bystanders to intervene when someone has suffered a life-threatening trauma.
Florida Department of Health

Over the summer, public schools across Illinois received kits designed to help staff members respond in the event of life-threatening injuries. Each kit contains Nitrile gloves, a MicroShield mask, QuikClot bandages, and a tourniquet — just enough supplies to help save one person from bleeding to death. Schools can receive up to five more free kits if they train more staff on a curriculum called STOP the Bleed

Mary Connelly, director of the state's medical emergency response team and a former emergency room nurse, says it’s the training that really helps. 

She compares this training to the Heimlich maneuver — a lifesaving technique that almost anyone can easily learn.

Cards classmates of Jurnee Thompson made after she was shot and killed in the second week of school. Jurnee, 8, was in third grade. Aug. 30, 2019.
Ryan Delaney | St. Louis Public Radio

Eddie Hill IV never showed up for the fifth grade. The 10-year-old was shot and killed enjoying his summer vacation from his front porch in the Lewis Place neighborhood, which borders the Central West End. 

His death has upended the school year for his former classmates at Pamoja Preparatory Academy at Cole. 

Eddie is one of a dozen children who have died in violence so far this year, part of a dizzying streak of young children being killed by bullets not meant for them, while doing things a kid is supposed to be doing in the summer: playing in the yard, eating pizza and going to football games.

Bree Holmes addresses St. Louis school board members during a special meeting Thursday at Vashon High School.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

The St. Louis Board of Education took the brunt of the frustration about gun violence that has taken the lives of a dozen children in the city from residents, parents and school staff Thursday night.

The school board held a special meeting at its Vashon High School to listen to ideas for how to keep its students alive.

Board members and district leadership say they are equally vexed by the deadly past several months, during which six St. Louis Public Schools students have been shot and killed — four over their summer vacation and two in the early weeks of the school year. At least two more have been wounded by gunfire.

It’s the middle of summer but Harrisburg Middle School is a hive of activity. Between summer school classes and renovations, it’s a little chaotic for counselor Brett Rawlings, who just wrapped up his first year at the school.

Harrisburg is a town of fewer than 300 people, midway between St. Louis and Kansas City. But the school also serves the surrounding area, which is primarily farmland. As the K-8 counselor, Rawlings is responsible for some 400 students, and he deals with a range of issues.


Jamaiyah Redmond and Chloé Guerin, both Clayton High School juniors, while listening to classmates call for school safety improvements Friday, Feb. 23, 2018.
File Photo | Ryan Delaney | St. Louis Public Radio

During the first week of the school year, St. Louis Public Schools didn’t just deal with summer learning loss – it started classes without several of its students.

“We have a 7-year-old who will not be starting school today,” said the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department’s Mary Warnecke, who spoke with reporters on Tuesday. “We have a 10-year-old murdered not that long ago, in the city of St. Louis, who will not be starting school today. We have a 2-year-old murdered on Ferris not so long ago. We have a 3-year-old who was murdered on Michigan not so long ago.”

Students work in the library of Kairos Academies, a charter middle school with a non-traditional learning model that opening in St. Louis. Aug. 15, 2019.
Ryan Delaney | St. Louis Public Radio

Gavin Schiffres pulls caffeinated hard candy wrappers out of the pocket of his dress slacks, admitting he’s only been sleeping a few hours a night. 

It’s been an exhausting first week tending to the new charter middle school he co-founded. 

Kairos Academies opened Monday in the top floor of a printing company along Jefferson Avenue on St. Louis’ south side. There have been a few hiccups to contend with: Student calendar apps weren’t working; the Wi-Fi completely crashed Thursday. 

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