St. Louis Public Schools have come far in five years
Just under five years ago, when I was appointed superintendent of the St. Louis Public Schools, the district was unaccredited, the financial status was distressed, and the leadership was unstable due to multiple superintendents coming and leaving. As a result of these problems, test scores were low and students were fleeing the school system in alarming numbers. Yes, the district was struggling to survive and flourish in its mission to provide an appropriate learning environment for students.
It seems the public has forgotten where we were, and thus, how far we have come in a short time.
During the past five years, the district has made very strong strides. The Missouri State Board of Education recognized the improvement and granted the district provisional accreditation on Oct. 16, 2012. Provisional accreditation was not a gift; it was a classification earned by the students and teachers of St. Louis Public Schools over a period of years based on the accreditation requirements at the time. The district’s accreditation points increased by more than 133 percent between 2008 and 2012. All areas measured showed improvement.
The district’s finances may have some in our community concerned. They ask, “How will St. Louis Public Schools meet its obligations in the future when desegregation funds dry up?” The answer is the same as it has been for the past four years; the district will operate with a balanced budget. If financial resources decline, the district will make the necessary and tough decisions to reduce expenses, just as it has this year and the past three years, when we have closed and consolidated schools, reduced staff, programs and contracts while still maintaining and expanding the critical academic programs necessary to increase achievement.
There are generally two kinds of people in the world: those who see a glass as half-full and those who see it as half-empty. For the sake of the children of St. Louis city, I choose to see the glass as being half-full. Dwelling on the negative is unproductive and harmful to our students, who in many situations face a negative reality in their day-to-day lives of poverty, homelessness and violence.
I will be the first to admit the district has much work to do. We will not be satisfied until the district regains full accreditation and our students are succeeding academically on a level equal to districts considered accredited with distinction. St. Louis Public Schools may not be there yet, but the district is focused on reaching that goal. Despite the issues of housing, crime and poverty, which are all factors that we have very little control to impact, we will nevertheless continue to work to meet our student and family needs. There are and will always be challenges that face urban districts, but we will always meet those challenges as we have in the past five years. The recent published challenges will not deter us from our goal. I will not make any excuses; instead, I will simply indicate that we will respond positively to the challenges presented by our recent audit and the new state assessment system. I am confident we will again meet the challenges.
Look at the St. Louis Public Schools glass as half-full and you will see a 50 percent increase in the number of children attending early childhood classes in the district today compared to five years ago. You will see a higher percentage of students graduating from high school today compared to five years ago. You will see improved facilities with new science labs, new cafeterias and new playgrounds for our children thanks to the Proposition S bond issue passed in 2010. You will see safer schools where 21st century technology such as iPads and SmartBoards are being used in the classroom. You will see newly formed partnerships with charter school partners like KIPP that will increase better high-quality options for students in the city.
There are more than 27,000 children whose parents choose to send them to St. Louis Public Schools each and every day. Thankfully, they haven’t forgotten how far the district has come over the past five years.
Kelvin R. Adams is superintendent of St. Louis Public Schools.