A Shrewdness of Apes

An Okie teacher banished to the Midwest. "Education is not the filling a bucket but the lighting of a fire."-- William Butler Yeats

Friday, March 23, 2007

St. Louis public schools circle the drain

Yesterday, the St. Louis City Public Schools was officially stripped of its accreditation and placed under the control of the state. Students and parents converged upon the meeting of the State Board of Eduation at which the decision for takeover was made and, over their protests, the deed was done.
With one St. Louis student in custody and scores of other students and parents choking on tears of frustration, the State Board of Education on Thursday revoked the accreditation of the 169-year-old St. Louis Public Schools and voted to turn its operation over to a businessman with limited educational experience.

"I feel pain for them," state board President Peter Herschend of Branson said of the 150 St. Louis students and parents who crowded a state office building to protest the intervention. "But these young men and women have been denied a decent education by the system."

If the move is not blocked in court, the transitional school board headed by St. Louis County developer Rick Sullivan, chairman of McBride & Son Enterprises, will assume control of the city schools on June 15.

Some school board members have promised a lawsuit to throw out the state action.

Last week, a contingent of students skipped their classes to stage a sit-in of the mayor's office, demanding that he restore their accreditation. They claimed that a student had been told that admission and scholarship would be affected if the district lost its accreditation. A letter had been circulated among the students, allegedly written by a student in the district, that made this claim.
One of the students’ main concerns is that their college admissions, scholarships and financial aid will be impacted if the district loses its state accreditation.

St. Louis Public Schools are currently provisionally accredited. The state board has expressed concerns about the district’s academic progress.

Superintendent Diana Bourisaw spoke at the press conference held by the students this afternoon. She said district officials compiled a list of the first-choice colleges to which students have applied. Last week, district researchers began calling the admission offices of the schools on the list.

They have discovered two which have different admission requirements for students who graduate from unaccredited high schools -- the University of Kansas and Northwest Christian College. Bourisaw said they have contacted about 30 or 40 schools so far and plan to continue the effort next week.

Hmmm- TWO out of thirty or forty. Some teachers and other adults supported the sit-in, apparently as clueless as the students themelves about the fact that the STATE Board of education, not the mayor of St. Louis, makes decisions about accreditation.

Interestingly, the sit-in ended before this week's spring break holiday from classes. Because, you know, during spring break, people have PLANS.

Here's the problem. For years, the school district has been seen more as a source of jobs and easy cash to pilfer than as a place where education was a priority. The adults who have "managed" the district of 33,000 students have never placed the needs of children for an EDUCATION as their first priority. Last summer, the school board fired Superintendent Creg Williams after a mere 15 months on the job, as I wrote about here. The district has been through 4 superintendents since 2003, including a corporate "turnaround specialist" with no education experience who had formerly been in charge of clothier-to preppies Brooks Brothers.

The St Louis Public Schools have been viewed as a place to get a paycheck without having to do much; as a place where computers and iPods were purchased and then vanished into thin air, as a place where voodoo incantations were used against enemies and pitchers of water were thrown over the heads of subordinates, as a place where the most important bona fides for gaining a school board seat was how much you could game the system. Public school in the city of St. Louis has been promoted as a place to get a meal, or see a social worker, or hang out with your friends-- anything but as a place to learn.

The schools have been physically and intellectually crumbling for years. No one raised a hand to change things. Now, suddenly, after repeated warnings, when accreditation has justifiably been lost through the action of no one but the people running St. Louis schools, we see petulance and shocked disbelief. Not to mention fear that at last retribution and accountability may-- MAY-- be on the way.

Who knows if the state takeover will work? I'm not too sure that putting a wealthy white resident of the subrurbs whose children attended exclusive Catholic schools, and who has no formal experience in education, will establish any sort of credibility for the massive turn-around needed to turn the buildings belonging to the district back into SCHOOLS again. But, hey-- the president of the school board sent her own children to a chi-chi county school district through a voluntary transfer program, so she wasn't much of a stakeholder, either. The mayor's bumbling actions toward trying to get some sort of control over the district is what put the combative board president there in the first place. The parents have all too often demonstrated the most blase indifference to the failure to educate. But certainly the current set-up has led to nothing but fraud and the criminal denial of an education to the thousands of students who have had the misfortune of passing through most of the schools in the district.

What was that saying of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King's? "Justice delayed is justice denied." We hear cries that the takeover is unfair. I really don't care about unfairness-- I'm more concerned with the morally indefensible injustice of maintaining a school district for the convenience of adults who fatten themselves at the trough while ignoring the imperative to EDUCATE the children for whom the district exists in the first place.

And let the lawsuits begin.

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At 3/23/07, 4:03 PM, Blogger NYC Educator said...

Wow. A lot of that history sounds the same as that of New York. And mayoral control, despite the big noises being made, hasn't changed all that much. Just a better class of people stealing money.

At 3/24/07, 6:17 PM, Blogger Mrs. Bluebird said...

Wow. Thanks for doing us the great public service of keeping the public informed. What a story. I think every office, classroom, building in that district needs a giant plaque over the doors..."Is it Best for the Kids?" Obviously the kids haven't been a priority for a long time. The saddest thing, however, is that they haven't been a priority for the parents either.

At 3/25/07, 5:25 PM, Anonymous SciGuy said...

Just the thought of being a St. Louis parent, student, or teacher caught up in this situation scares the hell out of me.

At 3/26/07, 4:17 PM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

No kidding. But anyone who can, escapes to the 'burbs.

At 3/26/07, 11:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I teach 2nd grade in the St. Louis Public School. The frustration I feel daily has very little to do with the students. The reason I stay is only about the students. I have witnessed the most idiotic, illogical, dishonest, behaviors that can be imagined. The district is too large and this is the reason so many people are able to steal, lie and take advantage of the district. The district should be divided in the most equally diverse manner possible. Diversity along all lines, including race and socioeconimic lines. Create 3-4 smaller districts and do it ASAP. The state takeover will forever negatively impact the district and the city. The state has failed at this before with smaller districts (Wellston). Yes, the buildings are literally falling down, we have no working copiers, not enough textbooks, no paper at times, unused technology which is locked in the administrator's office to keep it safe, peeling paint (lead most likely), broken windows, no hot water, no soap in the bathrooms, etc... And I teach in one of the best schools in the district. It is truly flabbergasting, but the worst part is listening to the public so easily complain, insult, and degrade the schools... but do absolutely NOTHING. The public MUST help fix this problem because the entity the public put into place to run the district has failed... These 32,000 children cannot wait to grow up while we are trying to figure this out. Sorry if I went on, but passion will do that. I have to finish report cards now.

At 3/29/07, 11:30 PM, Blogger Suzy said...

Wow. Wow again.
But turning the whole thing over to a private entity? As if that worked in say, Philadelphia, when Edison took over the schools?

It sounds like the teachers have ideas. Will anyone ask for their input?

And where is the union in all of this?

At 5/8/07, 10:20 AM, Blogger Hatshepsut said...

I have lived in St. Louis all my life and now my own daughter goes to the same school that I went to. I have seen the SLPS go up and down and then down some more. I have heard stories that the teachers are afraid to teach the children because the children are so unruly, disruptive, disrespectful, and lack help from home. The real problem here is not the school but the parents of the children going to the schools.

Sure parents want to complain about how the school is not teaching their children what they feel they should be taught or are upset that the school has lost its accreditation but, where were those parents when the school had it? Where were those parents when the school wasn't failing? They were too busy trying to get ahead in their own life to worry and wonder about their child's education. The majority of parents now-a-days do not take an active role in their own child's education and that is what the real problem is. They don't want some teacher teaching their child right from wrong or the basic lessons in life, but force them to and they are up in arms; which is what's going on right now.

The parents were the ones who were all pissy and upset about the school being taken over but where were they when the call was made years ago? Where were they during the school board meetings that we held open to the public where they could voice their concerns?

I take an active role in my child's education by asking her how her day was, helping her with her homework and getting to know her teachers and principal. I want to know what is going on in her life because I care enough to want to know and help her through it. I'm not saying that other parents don't care but when actions speak louder than words....

The moral of this situation is this:

When someone is running around saying that the sky is falling, look up from all of your self-centered crap and do something about it the first time before the sky actually falls and you are left to pick up the pieces.

At 5/8/07, 10:52 AM, Blogger Hatshepsut said...

Oh yeah I forgot to mention that in the 1999 court hearing Craton Liddell, et. al,. vs. The Board of Education of the City of St. Louis, Missouri that the SLPS might have lost its accreditation then as well. This comes as no surprise that they lost its accreditation now since the district was having problems all the way back then. They tried everything in their power to hold off the state take over but unfortunately they were unable to produce the numbers and remedy the problems they were having.


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