Article by Lane Koch

I’ll be honest. Until recently, I never paid much attention to the St. Louis Public School system (SLPS). I was blessed to be able to receive an excellent private education. I attended Kirk Day School for elementary school and Westminster Christian Academy for high school. My husband and I live in the St. Louis County and do not have children, so education has not been on the forefront of my mind. It wasn’t until a few years ago when four amazing kids from St. Louis City came into my family’s lives that my interest quickly turned to public education.

For years my Dad has volunteered at a boy’s home in St. Louis City. During his weekly visits, my Dad began a special relationship with one boy in particular. Our family soon learned that this boy also had three younger siblings whom he was essentially raising. Over the years, we have become an increasing apart of each other’s lives and care about them dearly.

Typical of many children in St. Louis inner city, they had an unstable and unhealthy home life.  We were surprised to discover, however, that the children attended an exceptional school, Confluence Academy. Confluence Academy is widely considered to be one of the best, if not the best, charter school in the city of St. Louis.

Before meeting our family, school was the only safe, consistent, positive and productive aspect of the kids’ lives. At Confluence, students attend longer-than-normal school days and school years. More time in school allows them more time to learn and more time in proximity to a positive and safe environment. In addition to a full curriculum of reading, writing, math, social studies, science, music, and health, the students also get to learn Spanish starting in kindergarten. To say that having the opportunity to attend Confluence Academy has made a difference in the kids’ lives would a major understatement.

The Missouri General Assembly adjourned on May 13 and unfortunately did not manage to pass House Bill 473, which would have allowed for more children to have the opportunity to attend a great charter school like Confluence Academy. Specifically, HB 473 would expand where charter public schools can open and increase the accountability on charter schools.Additionally, the bill would have expanded sponsorship in unaccredited districts like St. Louis City and allow school boards in fully accredited districts to sponsor charter schools.

The bill would also greatly increase the accountability standards on charter schools.  Provisions in HB 473 wouldallow the State Board of Education to close a school and suspend a sponsor for poor performance or financial mismanagement.  Sponsors of charter schools would also be required to apply to be allowed to open a charter school and all current charter school sponsors would have been required to reapply.  Reporting requirements on student performance and financial management were also increased.

Though it is discouraging that HB 473 did not pass this session, there are some other noteworthy improvements happening in SLPS.

I recently got the opportunity to attend a meeting with Blake Youde, the deputy superintendent of institutional advancement at SLPS. Youde gave a progress report on the district’s effort to regain accreditation, which was lost in 2007.

Shortly after losing accreditation, the school system hired Dr. Kelvin Adams as superintendent. Before moving to St. Louis, Dr. Adams was chief of staff for the Recovery School District (RSD) in New Orleans, where he successfully opened 33 RSD operated schools and 26 charter schools as part of a long-term plan for building a better school system for the city of New Orleans following the destruction of Hurricane Katrina. Dr. Adams’ leadership in St. Louis over the past four years has yielded quantitative improvements in SLPS.

Under Dr. Adam’s leadership, SLPS is focusing primarily on four initiatives: early childhood education, portfolio of schools, school choice, and performance-based schools.  SLPS has seen quantitative gains in academics. In 2010 SLPS earned five accreditation points out of a possible 14. Though still low, this was a two-point increase from the three points earned in 2009. In 2010 12 schools (16%) earned Adequate Yearly Progress status; in 2009 less than 15% of SLPS received that status. Additionally, in 2010, 40 SLPS schools showed improvement in the Missouri Assessment Program (MAP).

Every day, about 35,000 students enter a St. Louis Public School, 10,000 of whom attend a charter school. As St. Louisans, we are accustomed to answering and asking the question, “Where’d you go to high school.” Many people, including myself, enjoy answering this question. We have pride and appreciation for our schools and the education we received from them. My hope is that students attending school in the St. Louis Public School system will be able to have the same pride I feel when I answer that question.