• Cleveland NJROTC will stay open under new city school plan

    9:36 pm on Wed, 03.20.13

    Swayed not so much by passion as by a plan and a pledge to increase enrollment, St. Louis school Superintendent Kelvin Adams has spared Cleveland NJROTC from threatened closure.

    Backtracking on a recommendation made last month – and after a similar threatened closure of the school a few years ago – Adams said that Cleveland will work to establish partnerships with several middle schools, including one charter, to boost the number of students who sign up.

    He said freshmen who have signed up for the school this fall have been assured they will be able to graduate from Cleveland in four years.

    The plan to close Cleveland had prompted impassioned pleas from parents, students and even members of the elected city school board to keep the school open. But after Wednesday night’s Special Administrative Board meeting, Adams made it clear that while he heard their concerns, those comments at a public forum and on the district website were not what carried the day.

    “It wasn’t passion that did it,” he said. “It was that they had increased their numbers and had a real plan to market the school.”

    The withdrawal of the plan to close Cleveland prompted an exchange between Adams and board members about criteria for keeping schools open – whether the decisions should be made on academics or on the best use of buildings.

    SAB member Richard Gaines, who last month had urged Cleveland families to make their case for keeping the school open, acknowledged that the city schools face a challenging financial situation and are a system built for 100,000 students but only enrolling 27,000.

    Richard Gaines
    Richard Gaines

    Still, he said, academics must be the most important reason for any school to close.

    “The school system must address the needs of kids by looking at at the costs of urban education,” he said. “What does it cost to effectively educate a child in an urban environment where that child is not a high-performing student and is not functioning well.

    “We have to have assumptions that start with the needs of children first.”

    The closure of Cleveland and other schools were key parts of a cost-cutting plan that Adams had presented to the SAB last month. In all, the steps were designed to save $8.4 million for the coming school year. Closing Cleveland – in effect, letting current students graduate but not accepting any more – would have saved $347,000.

    The SAB did vote to close L’Ouverture Middle School and Sherman Elementary School, plus close, consolidate or move other programs. It also OK’d a plan to pay for early retirement for eligible school system employees, up to a total of $5.1 million a year for three years, if 400 employees sign up to take part.

    But three other key parts of Adams’ financial recommendations did not win approval.

    He had asked that the school system let class sizes increase to the midpoint of what the state of Missouri recommends, rather than a lower figure – a move that would have saved $5.2 million by reducing the staff by 82 teachers. That recommendation died for lack of a second.

    And he withdrew a plan that would have eliminated 7 a.m. start times for city schools, moving all starts to 8 a.m. and 9 a.m., because of research that shows students learn better when they get more sleep. The so-called two-tier bell system, from the current three-tier system, would have required the purchase of 94 buses at a cost of $5.7 million.

    Kelvin Adams
    Kelvin Adams

    Adams said that when asked about changing the bell schedule, 58 percent of parents and 68 percent of staff said they were opposed.

    The superintendent also withdrew a recommendation that the positions of 20 social workers, nurses and counselors be cut, which would have saved $1.6 million.

    Adams said he was not sure where he would make up the money that would have been saved with the reduction of staff because of larger class sizes, though the withdrawal of the new bell schedule would offset at least part of that.

    In recommending that Cleveland remain open, Adams said the school would add a projected 111 students in the fall and would create partnerships with middle schools such as Busch, Yeatman, Carondelet Leadership Academy and St. Louis Charter.

    He also said the school would realign its standards from the current plan, which uses standards from the Naval Academy, to standards from the Naval Junior ROTC program. He said the changes wouldn’t necessarily be more lax but they would give the school more flexibility.

    After hearing Adams’ recommendations, SAB President Rick Sullivan noted that the superintendent had listened to the community, but he had not necessarily solved the larger problem of aligning school size to school capacity.

    Rick Sullivan
    Rick Sullivan

    “The elephant is still sitting in the room,” he said.

    Sullivan urged Adams to maintain a regular flow of data on the subject.

    “Give us information on a regular basis,” he said, “so this isn’t an annual discussion and we can look at this in a long-term way.”

    After the meeting, Sullivan stressed, as Gaines had, that decisions have to be based on student achievement and academics, from school closings to class sizes.

    “This board has said from its early days we want the student-teacher ratio to be at the level desired by DESE,” he said.

    “This board wants to focus on academics first and on the number of students second.”

    During the meeting, Gaines put it more bluntly.

    “We can’t say, we have a school that can hold 500 kids and we only have 300 kids, so we need to close the school, the hell with whether those kids are doing well or not.”