ST. LOUIS • Monday morning was a flurry of activity at the Academy of Environmental Sciences and Mathematics. Kids lugged backpacks. Parents clutched paperwork. School administrators stood curbside to field questions.
Like at other schools in the district, some parents at the Academy school had waited until the first day of classes to register their children.
The building on the corner of Chouteau and Spring avenues looks very much like the school it was last year. Inside, banners still hang identifying it as an Imagine school.
Students met some of the same teachers and walked familiar halls, with names such as Courage Street and Generosity Avenue. Workers were preparing food in Character Cafe.
But this is no longer an Imagine school. The state closed all six Imagine charter schools last year for academic failure, leaving parents scrambling this summer to find an alternative for 3,800 children.
St. Louis Public Schools stepped in to lease the Academy building and open a high school, expecting to absorb the majority of the former Imagine students. But exactly how many remained unclear on Monday. The two schools logged 1,100 students on the first day. That doesn't count former Imagine students who found their way to other St. Louis district schools. Or those who have not yet shown up.
District officials estimate that as many as 3,300 of the former Imagine students could eventually enroll in their schools. What is known for sure is the former Imagine students are credited for boosting the district's first-day attendance to 20,283 students, up more than 10 percent from last year.
The bump in attendance reverses years of decline as parents moved their children to private schools or into county districts.
The district projected enrollment this year at about 22,785.
That was in March, before it decided to open schools specifically for former Imagine students and recruit them to enroll there. Adding the Imagine students to the equation makes it unclear exactly what percentage of students showed up on the first day.
St. Louis traditionally has faced low attendance the first week of school. In the last two years, the district touted its improvement to 80 percent or better of students showing up the first day. The percentage could be even higher this year, based on the March projected attendance. But it would fall below 80 percent if the Imagine students were added to that projection.
Either way, Superintendent Kelvin Adams seemed pleased. He and other administrators had spoken at 25 churches Sunday, encouraging students to attend on Monday.
"The successes today are a testament to the hard work of our students, faculty and staff," he said. "The first day of school went very well."
On Monday, 846 students showed up at the Academy school, which will house students in kindergarten through eighth grade. The district is also operating College Preparatory High School at Madison, in a building on South Seventh Street where 274 former Imagine high school students were in classes on Monday.
More students means more state funding, but it also means more expenses for the district, including employees.
Of the 90 teachers hired for the Madison and Academy schools, about two-thirds of them are former Imagine teachers. In addition, the district hired three principals from the Imagine school. The district is paying $688,500 a year to lease the Academy building, about a third of what Imagine paid.
But how the addition of the Imagine students will affect the district's progress toward regaining state accreditation remains to be seen.
Imagine schools have logged some of the worst academic scores in the state. The St. Louis Public Schools district has asked the state to exclude test scores from Imagine students who enroll in city schools for the next three years.
State Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro told the district in June that there was "insufficient basis" for doing so because it was unknown how many Imagine students would ultimately land in St. Louis Public Schools.
"When we can confirm the number of students you receive from Imagine Schools, we will be happy to discuss," Nicastro said.
District officials said they might not know an exact number until after Labor Day.
Parents dropping off their children on Monday at the Academy school said they were glad to see it remain open, but they had concerns about it moving from a charter to a district school.
Courtney Jackson took her daughter, Sharnell Bowdry, 11, out of St. Louis Public Schools and enrolled her in Imagine two years ago. She did not want her back in the public school system but said she waited too late to shop around.
"She will be familiar with some of the kids," Jackson said with a shrug. "We'll see what they have to offer. I hope they are professional."
Willie Woods was feeling some anxiety about enrolling his daughter, Ashanti, in the fifth grade at the school.
"My wife and I had concerns. But we didn't want her to change schools," Woods said. The school is close to home, and many of the staff members have returned, he said.
"I guess we'll find out if there are any real changes as the year progresses," he said.