ST. LOUIS • After a month spent hearing pleas from students, parents, staff and alumni, city schools Superintendent Kelvin Adams dropped his recommendation Wednesday to close Cleveland NJROTC High School after years of lackluster enrollment.
For weeks, Adams has heard stories about how the school’s Navy Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps had transformed students’ lives by teaching discipline and respect, and instilling a desire to learn that hadn’t existed in some of them before.
But in the end it was the faculty’s plan to aggressively increase enrollment that saved the school from the budget ax.
“The parent input was significant, but didn’t sway me,” Adams said. “It’s great that the alums rallied around the school. But the real factor is, they made some recommendations around current enrollment increases and future enrollment.”
School closures are occurring at rapid pace in urban school systems nationwide as districts grapple with fewer students and emptier buildings. It’s a move that Adams says must be made if the St. Louis district is to adjust to increasing costs, shrinking revenue and enrollment.
The special board governing St. Louis Public Schools did approve the closure of Sherman Elementary and L’Ouverture Middle schools — two of 21 schools in the district operating below 60 percent capacity. The two closures will save the district $1.3 million next year, Adams said.
Of the schools operating well below capacity, seven are high schools.
“The elephant is still sitting in the room,” said Rick Sullivan, head of the Special Administrative Board. “We’ve got 6,000-7,000 high school students in buildings that can house 20,000 students.”
Board member Richard Gaines said the district must prioritize a school’s student achievement ahead of how well it’s filling out a building.
“At this point, we need to be talking pure academics in this school system,” he said.
Test scores at Cleveland are among the best in the district, with students scoring well above the state average in reading and slightly above the state average in math. But the school’s enrollment of 260 students is using less than half the available space in the building it shares with Central Visual Performing Arts High School, at Kingshighway and Arsenal.
School administrators presented a plan to Adams to accept 111 freshmen next year, almost double the size of this year’s class. They plan to form “feeder” partnerships with several area middle schools, including charter schools, through student mentorships. And they also plan to re-examine their application process without weakening academic requirements.
Students and staff will be thrilled with Adams’ change of plans, said Capt. Peter Davenport, the school’s naval administrator and naval instructor. “They love that place,” he said. “It means home will stay open. It’s a win for the community. It’s a win for the kids.”
“I’m really grateful,” said Stephanie Briggs, a sophomore, after the board meeting.
Last month, Adams proposed several cost-cutting measures to balance a budget that anticipates $282.8 million in revenue, down from the $285.2 million projected for this year. Several of his recommendations were either dropped by him or rejected by the board Wednesday. Among them — increasing class sizes and cutting 20 social workers, counselors and nurses.
“We don’t have enough of them. Period,” Adams said.
Adams also dropped his recommendation for later start times at high schools after a majority of parents and faculty responded negatively in surveys. Doing so would have cost the district an additional $5.7 million.