By the Editorial Board
The St. Louis city school district, under the leadership of Superintendent Kelvin Adams and with the support of a state-appointed three-member administrative board, is nearly ready to take a well-earned bow.
This week, Missouri’s top education officials are expected to restore full accreditation to the district. It will be the result of years of hard work by the Special Administrative Board, Adams, teachers, students, parents and civic supporters. Full accreditation is mostly a symbolic victory, but that does not dim its significance. It will boost morale, engender greater community pride and support and set a performance baseline that will enable the district to aim even higher.
St. Louis Public Schools lost accreditation from the Missouri State Board of Education in 2007 because of poor academic performance and ineffective governance. The district was $25 million in debt, had burned through six superintendents over four years and was mired in failure. The 2006 graduation rate was roughly 55 percent; the dropout rate nearly 19 percent and more than 60 percent of 10th graders scored “below basic” in math on state standardized tests.
When the state stripped the district of accreditation, it created the SAB, which restored order, stabilized finances and helped oversee staff reductions and school closings while providing opportunities for community input.
The elected school board remains in place but has no administrative authority over the district. The SAB also hired Adams in 2008, and wisely has allowed him to manage the district’s day-to-day operations without the meddling that the elected board was famous for.
Adams focused effort on the lowest-achieving schools, mostly attended by children from unstable housing situations and deep poverty. He sent them extra help, including additional nurses, counselors, social workers, reading and math specialists. The turnaround was significant: 46 of the district’s 71 schools improved in academics and attendance in 2015 compared with two previous years.
The district has also partnered with charter schools, tried pilot schools, gender-based classrooms, Saturday school classes and a selective-admission medical high school. Not all of the initiatives have worked, but that’s not for lack of effort.
Adams and the SAB have refused to give up on the district. They did not forget that Job One is creating the best educational opportunities possible for more than 23,000 students. Even with its overall low performance, the district has always had some of the best schools in the state, such as Metro Academic and Classical High School, a selective magnet school.
Full accreditation will give Adams more opportunity to try innovative classroom techniques instead of constantly striving for higher testing scores. It will also help parents and students hold their heads a little higher, sending a signal that poverty and skin color need not be indicators of educational failure.