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.