• Editorial: New schools collaboration offers hope for transfer discussion


    Dense foliage covers part of the entrance to the vacant Mitchell School in north St. Louis on Thursday, July 18, 2013. Photo by Erik M. Lunsford elunsford@post-dispatch.com

    By the Editorial Board

    The most hopeful development in the St. Louis school transfer saga isn’t happening in any of the school districts involved. Not Normandy or Francis Howell. Not Riverview Gardens or Mehlville. It’s not about black or white, rich or poor. State lawmakers don’t need to do a thing.

    Just sit back and watch as the St. Louis Public Schools and KIPP charter schools combine forces to show the St. Louis region the educational wave of the future.

    On Thursday, the Special Administrative Board that runs the provisionally accredited St. Louis Public Schools approved a plan to let the nonprofit KIPP open a new charter school in the vacant Mitchell School in north St. Louis.


    The public schools won’t charge KIPP, which already manages one successful charter school in the city, the KIPP Inspire Middle School, for use of the building.

    It gets better.


    The KIPP students test scores — which have shown tremendous gains — will be reflected as part of the statewide scores of the St. Louis Public Schools.

    What this means is that for the first time, the most successful charter program in the country and the St. Louis Public Schools are full partners. If KIPP succeeds, St. Louis does. Superintendent Kelvin Adams and KIPP executive director Kelly Garrett have already collaborated over the past few years, sharing best practices information, particularly in KIPP’s successful program of identifying and training quality principals.

    But by reversing the school district’s previous practice of not making its empty schools available to charters, the district serves its students in an important way, by reconnecting communities to their centers of education.

    That’s not to say that the district’s 36 empty school buildings should be handed out like candy to every charter school that comes knocking. KIPP is unique, and its success here and elsewhere is documented. It doesn’t cherry-pick its students. It shares its practices with its public school partners.

    But this is a model that could also be applied in Normandy and Riverview Gardens in north St. Louis County. Rather than facing the difficult decision and expense of putting elementary school children on a bus to send them 20 miles away to Francis Howell schools in St. Charles County, or Mehlville schools in south St. Louis County, the better long-term solution is to bring the mountain to Mohammed.

    There is no reason why successful suburban school districts, or the Cooperative School Districts of St. Louis, could not follow the same model, using their curriculum, their teachers and their proven practices in the struggling school districts

    It’s not going to happen for the upcoming school year. There isn’t enough time.

    But what about 2014, when KIPP plans to open its new elementary school in the vine-covered Mitchell School?

    It’s worth noting that the empty school building at 955 Arcade Ave., in north St. Louis is about equidistant between Highland Elementary School in the Riverview Gardens district and Forder Elementary in the Mehlville schools. Imagine this: What if next year, a new KIPP school could turn the tables on the school transfer issue, acting as a magnet for children seeking success.

    This collaboration isn’t just a big deal for the city of St. Louis. It maps out a plan of success for the entire region.

    “It’s what’s best for the region and the city,” Mr. Adams told the Post-Dispatch’s Elisa Crouch.

    “The sky’s the limit,” Mr. Garrett said in the same joint interview.

    One new school in an empty building doesn’t reverse decades of decline.

    But minimizing this important step in the future of improving public schools in the St. Louis region would be a mistake. This is big. This is going to work.

    The key here is collaboration between trusting partners who put kids first.

    So ignore some of the ugly noise coming out of south St. Louis County and St. Charles County. Forget the lawmakers squabbling with school board members and legislators positioning for next year’s battles.

    Collaboration, and implementation of time-tested, fact-based reforms, is the future.

    The Mitchell School should not be alone in 2014.

    What if today, some brave superintendent in Clayton, or Ladue, or Parkway or Rockwood, or Francis Howell or Mehlville, would pick up the phone and call Normandy and Riverview Gardens, or Kelvin Adams in St. Louis, and say, “Give us a building. We want to work with you”? What if the region’s civic, corporate and political leaders rallied behind them?

    Imagine that.
    The story can be accessed here.