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St. Louis-Area School Systems Band Together to Help Unaccredited Districts

Some St. Louis-area school districts are banding together to help their unaccredited siblings regain firm academic and financial footing.

The group of 22 school districts—including St. Louis Public schools, Maplewood-Richmond Heights, Kirkwood, and Webster-Groves—will team up to help unaccredited Riverview Gardens and the Normandy Schools Collaborative regain accreditation.

Gov. Jay Nixon made the announcement while visiting a kindergarten center in Normandy on Tuesday.

"It is important to note that some school districts already are supporting Normandy and Riverview Gardens in ways large and small," Nixon said in a statement.  "But the depth and breadth of this new collaborative effort—taken in the best interests of all the region's children—is, quite frankly, unprecedented. It is tremendously encouraging to see the spirit of regionalism flourishing here, at such a critical time for St. Louis and for public education."

Normandy Schools Collaborative and Riverview Gardens are the only two unaccredited districts in the state. The state took over Normandy schools last year largely because of slow academic progress and near-bankruptcy caused by the crushing weight of tuition payments the district had to shoulder for students who left the district to attend better schools elsewhere.

The districts in the consortium currently enroll transfer students from Normandy and Riverview Gardens, and they have committed to taking steps that may include:

  • Tuition reduction for students transferring from Normandy and Riverview Gardens;
  • Teacher training and professional development;
  • Providing math and reading specialists to Normandy and Riverview Gardens to help increase student performance in those subject areas;
  • Assisting with curriculum design;
  • Providing instructional coaches to help high school students with AP courses in American government, statistics, English and biology; and
  • Combining purchasing power to reduce costs.

The governor also announced on Tuesday $1 million in funds for intensive reading instruction in Normandy and Riverview Gardens; $1 million for St. Louis Public Schools; and $500,000 for the district in Kansas City.

A steering committee of select superintendents and other education leaders will work to put into place the plan to help the Normandy and Riverview Gardens schools.  A local nonprofit will also audit Normandy's information systems and examine the district's academic performance and whether courses are being taught by qualified teachers, according to the governor's office.

Charles Pearson, the superintendent of the Normandy district, lauded the collaborative effort. He said the reduction in tuition would benefit the district, as would access to teachers with expertise in subject areas that the district has struggled to fill.

 "For me," Pearson told Fox2now,  "the real shift here is that we're now starting to talk about how all of us can serve all children. And that's exciting."

Gov . Nixon's announcement comes as he deliberates whether to sign an amendment to the state's controversial 1993 school transfer law that permits students in unaccredited school districts to transfer to accredited ones while their home districts pick up the tab for tuition.  Nixon vetoed last year's legislative proposal, primarily because it included an option that would have allowed students to transfer to private, non-religious schools. But he also disagreed with a part of the proposal that would let districts that receive students from Normandy and Riverview Gardens offer a tuition discount in exchange for not counting those students' test scores in state accountability reports for up to five years. 

This year's version has caused similar handwringing over changes that would allow students to transfer to virtual and charter schools. This version would allow individual schools—not just districts—to be labeled as accredited or unaccredited, and students would also have the option of transferring from an unaccredited school in the district to an accredited school.

School districts, particularly in the urban centers, have said the measure does not do enough to curb the issue of tuition costs and that the law is merely a guise for charter school expansion in places like St. Louis. They have urged to the governor to veto it.   

Charter school associations and some parent groups are in favor of the proposal, arguing that it expands choice for parents whose children are stuck in struggling schools.

The governor has until mid-July to sign or veto the bill, but it will become law if he takes no action. 

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