• Enrollment, performance up in St. Louis district and charter schools

    June 27, 2014  •  By Elisa Crouch ecrouch@post-dispatch.com 314-340-8119

     Adams Photo

    ST. LOUIS • In a rare appearance together, Superintendent Kelvin Adams and Mayor Francis Slay shared a podium at City Hall on Thursday to announce what could be the reversal of a 40-year exodus of public school children from the city.

    A report, paid for in part by the Regional Business Council, shows that 5 percent more children were enrolled in St. Louis charter and district schools in the 2012-13 school year than in 2008. But just as noteworthy, Slay and Adams said, is that the number of seats in quality schools during that time has doubled, giving more parents who are considering a move to the suburbs reason to stay.

    “Our kids are our greatest assets,” Slay said. “Quality education and quality choices for parents will make our neighborhoods stronger and strengthen our city.”

    But the good news was tempered by other findings that show nearly 19,000 children in the city — about 60 percent of those enrolled in public schools — still lack access to schools that meet state standards. Most of those children are concentrated in six ZIP codes in the extreme north and south parts of the city.

    Sixteen of the 19 lowest-performing district schools are in those neighborhoods — the very places Adams will be implementing high-dosage tutoring and other interventions this fall.

    “We are doubling down to make sure students in those low-achieving schools get what they need,” he said.

    Public school enrollment in the city has been on the decline since the 1967-68 school year, when the number of children in St. Louis Public Schools topped out at 115,543. The flight of whites to the suburbs, followed by African-Americans, have resulted in near-annual rituals of school closures and staff reductions in the district.

    Most of the gain reported Thursday is in St. Louis Public Schools, with about 27,000 students. Charter school enrollment has held steady, with about 8,100 children enrolled.

    The study was conducted by IFF, a Chicago-based nonprofit organization that lends money to schools and other nonprofit agencies for buildings. It did a similar study in 2008 to help charter school operators figure out the best locations to open schools in St. Louis.

    “This is where St. Louis could have the biggest impact,” said Joe Neri, chief executive of IFF, referring to the underserved areas. “Creating better performing schools in these neighborhoods is the first step to tackling broader issues in the city.”

    Among the study’s findings:

    • Fifty-five percent of schools meeting or exceeding state standards are district schools. Those include neighborhood and magnet schools (schools with specialized focus, such as performing arts). Most of the quality district schools, however, are magnet schools with selective enrollment requirements, such as a high grade-point average.

    • Forty percent of performing schools in the city are charter schools, which are tuition-free public schools that operate independently of the district.

    • Of the district’s failing schools, 84 percent were neighborhood schools. Those schools have also experienced the greatest enrollment loss since 2008.

    • Of the district’s high-performing schools, eight are magnets with selective enrollment requirements. The number of children attending the 11 selective magnet schools has increased fivefold since 2008, with nearly 5,200 students in 2012-13.

    • Of the city’s 17 charter schools, 40 percent failed to meet state standards. One of those schools, Shearwater, has since closed.

    “It is critically important that we understand this is about the city of St. Louis,” Adams said. “Not about charter schools, not about district schools, but that all children in the city of St. Louis have high-quality options.”

    Since 2008, Adams and Slay have been working toward the goal of improving educational options and choice in St. Louis, with seemingly little interaction.

    Slay is more than a cheerleader for the cause. His office has directly solicited or supported the opening of 18 charter schools since 2007, nurturing them as they developed and providing support they’ve needed to open their doors. Slay has also pushed for failing charter schools to close, such as the six Imagine schools in 2012.

    The mayor’s increasingly active role in attracting strong charter schools has put him at odds at times with district officials who are working to revive their struggling school system. As more students left the system for charter schools, dollars followed.

    But on Thursday, the two spoke of a partnership.

    “St. Louis Public Schools can’t do this alone,” Adams said. “Obviously, the mayor has been an advocate.”

    Slay said he’s one of Adams’ biggest supporters. “He is making a real difference,” he said.

    Adams came to the district in 2008. St. Louis Public Schools had lost accreditation the year before and was under the direction of an appointed Special Administrative Board.

    Since his arrival, Adams has closed 17 schools, most of them low-performing. He’s also added rigorous enrollment requirements to a number of magnet schools, in response to parent demand.

    Mallinckrodt, for example, began transitioning into a gifted elementary school. The district opened the Collegiate School of Medicine and Bioscience last year — another selective magnet. Adams said his staff is looking into adding gifted seats in other elementary schools districtwide.

    The district’s accreditation rating has been upgraded to provisional. Though district’s performance on Missouri’s annual district report card showed a failing grade, Adams at the time said it had more to do with not adjusting to the state’s new performance measures. On Thursday, he said he expects better results this year.

    “We still have a great deal more work to do,” he said.`+