• SLPS should be provisionally accredited

    St. Louis American

    On our front page this week, we honor a Vashon High School guidance counselor, Kynedra Ogunnaike, as our St. Louis American Foundation’s 2012 SEMO Counselor of the Year. She has worked in the St. Louis Public School District for 16 years, following the legacy of her mother who served as SLPS counselor for 36 years.

    While shadowing her in a Vashon classroom, our reporter saw how the students jumped at her eagerness to talk about their life goals – and how they can achieve them. Ogunnaike told us, “I represent all educators who work tirelessly everyday. It feels good to be recognized. People are constantly saying negative things about the public school system, and they don’t see all the hard work we actually put in and all of the lives that we change.”

    The St. Louis Public School District technically earned enough progress points this year to qualify for provisional accreditation status, based on the annual state evaluation reports. But Chris Nicastro, commissioner of the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), said they are not going to get it.

    To teachers, students and parents, this sent the message that despite all their hard work and gains, they will not achieve their goal of becoming a school district that’s recognized for changing lives for the better. Particularly for a guidance counselor in a low-income neighborhood that’s full of young people at risk of falling off the edge, that’s not the message we need to send.

    Nicastro wants to see a minimum three years of improvement from the district, making the earliest time for consideration next year. In reality, the earliest time will likely be three years. This year, DESE will change its evaluation process. And during the transition to the new system, MSIP 5, the department will not be changing any district’s accreditation status until 2015, said Sarah Potter of DESE. The board would make an exception if any district could show “sustained improvement,” she said, but otherwise it will be a three-year wait.

    This year, SLPS earned seven out of the 14 points possible in the annual performance report (APR) from the Missouri School Improvement Program. That is one more standard met than last year. With a grain of salt, the district also saw small declines in its performance in 14 out of 18 categories on the Missouri Assessment Program tests.

    A K-12 school district must meet at least nine of the 14 accreditation standards to be fully accredited and at least six to be provisionally accredited. The district has satisfied these standards, and we believe SLPS should be considered for provisional accreditation.

    Since 2007, St. Louis has been unaccredited and under the control of a three-member Special Administrative Board (SAB). In 2007, the school district met just two out of 14 standards on the annual progress report. We believe under the direction of this board and Superintendent Kelvin Adams, the district has been making steady progress.

    In 2010, a state-appointed advisory committee recommended that the SLPS district remain under control of the SAB. The committee, co-chaired by Dr. William Danforth and attorney Frankie Freeman, was originally formed in 2006 to advise the State Board of Education about solutions to the ongoing turmoil in the district. Also part of that committee were attorney Ned Lemkemeier, Michael Middleton, deputy chancellor of University of Missouri-Columbia, and Donald M. Suggs, publisher of theSt. Louis American.

    We believe there are ways to adhere to the committee’s recommendation, while still awarding the district the provisional accreditation it deserves. In fact, the state has authorized the SAB to remain in place until June 2014, as it should. The district’s past school-board turmoil should not scare the state out of rewarding the district. As Kelvin Adams told us last week, the district is nowhere near where he wants it to be. Provisional accreditation does not mean the district has made it; it just means the staff and students are encouraged and have a new reason to keep going.