February 28, 2007

Thank you all for coming to visit us at the St. Louis Public Schools central office today. Let me take a moment to recognize a few individuals who are here:

o Alice Handelman, the president of the Press Club of Metropolitan St. Louis.
o Charles Klotzer, the media person of the year and founder of the St. Louis Journalism Review.
o Glenda Partlow, executive director of the press club.
o St. Louis Board of Education member Bill Purdy.

I must also recognize Johnny Little, member of the press club and our Executive Director of Public Information for the school district, for helping arrange today’s event.

Let me begin by giving you a quick snapshot of the St. Louis Public Schools.

St. Louis continues to be the largest school district in Missouri with nearly 33,000 students. In recent years, we lose an average of 1,600 students each year due to an increase in charter school openings, private schools, and overall decline in the number of families moving into St. Louis.

We currently operate 93 school facilities.

Our student body is predominantly African-American (82%). Thirteen percent of our student body is white.

We have 5,800 special education students and 2,600 English Language Learners.

What affects our district the most, however, is poverty.

o One in ten students are homeless
o Two in ten are precariously housed
o Three in ten will be homeless at some point during this school year

These alarming numbers are confirmed by our high mobility rate. For example, the mobility rate among our high school students is 77%. 85% of our students are eligible for free and reduced lunches.

Why are these numbers so significant? They demonstrate the challenges that we face every day in St. Louis in getting kids into our schools ready to learn every day.

It is difficult for students to learn when their other basic needs are not being met. Imagine if you were sitting through today’s discussions with an empty stomach. Or worried about where you would be sleeping that night. Perhaps facing health issues, but with no means to get to a doctor.

Poverty is truly the largest obstacle our school children face. At the same time, it is through education that we can end the cycle of poverty.

So what have we done to improve the St. Louis Public Schools in the past seven months?

We have refocused the District on accreditation.

We have a board-approved budget that balances expenditures and revenues. Despite the discovery of several under-funded areas, the District continues to introduce a balanced budget.

We have been awarded over $21 million in new grants for the 2006/2007 school year, including the largest AP grant in the nation.

We have launched a new college scholarship program for the Class of 2010. My goal is to raise $20 million in scholarships for our current ninth graders.

We have completely restructured in a manner than improves communication while also reducing costs.

We have increased the number of permanent, certified teachers in classrooms. This year the District has 50 long-term substitutes compared to approximately 200 in past years.

We have increased accountability at all levels of the organization.

The District has increased the number of nurses in our schools. We’ve increased the number of counselors and social workers. And, we have a parent facilitator in every school.

Administration has developed a new Comprehensive School Improvement Plan (CSIP) that will serve as the master plan for all goals and objectives. Further, each school has developed a School Improvement Plan aimed at improving academic achievement for all students.

Little did I know when we scheduled this special brown bag lunch for the Press Club of Metropolitan St. Louis that it would land on the same day as our deadline to submit data to the State of Missouri regarding our sixth accreditation standard.

However, because of the timing, let me give you a little background on how this all came about.

After we were able to open schools on time back in August, my staff and I immediately went to work on looking at where the district stood in terms of accreditation – and we also began crafting our 173 point Comprehensive School Improvement Plan for the district.

It became clear early on that the district had a major problem in how it had previously submitted data to the State. As a result of changes in leadership, middle management, and front-line workers, the system of validating data before it was sent to the State no longer worked.

I established an internal team to begin the process of validating past data. As a result of that team’s work, we were able to find past errors that indicated the district would likely meet two additional accreditation standards – graduate placement and career & technical education. To ensure the accuracy of our numbers, we contracted an independent firm to validate our graduate placement data. Ultimately, the state gave us credit for the career and technical education component. They also withheld a determination of our graduate placement data. This was all finalized prior to the release of the district’s annual report card last December 1.

After Dec. 1, I personally contacted DESE on several occasions to inquire about how we should submit our additional data on graduate placement. We received no answer until Feb. 1 when we received a request to provide:

Graduation Year

Copies of the graduation programs listing each graduate

First and last names of graduates

Placement type



Birth date

Name of college attended

City and state of college attended

The deadline to submit this additional data to the State of Missouri is today. While we will submit what we’ve been able to gather, our submission will not be complete.

Last Friday, I asked Commissioner King for an extension. I have received no response from DESE or the State Board concerning that request.

I know the information we provided DESE is accurate. We can justify all of the information that has been sent. However, much of the requested information is not readily available. We don’t maintain copies of all graduation programs. We do not maintain the names and addresses of colleges and universities where our graduates go. To go back a full five years to track down previous graduates will take time.

We’ve had school counselors, central office staff, and numerous others calling on previous graduates. We have 2,444 graduates for whom we have no valid follow-up information. We’ve been able to reach approximately 20% of those graduates as of yesterday. Clearly, we need more time.

Let’s talk briefly about what unaccreditation means for the city of St. Louis.

The State Board of Education has reestablished a transitional school board. Because we still are provisionally accredited, the transitional school board in place effective March 17 will be advisory only. That board will consist of:

o One member appointed by the Mayor;
o One member appointed by the President of the Board of Aldermen;
o One member appointed by our elected school board.

If we lose accreditation, the member appointed by our local school board would be replaced by a member appointed by the Governor. That new appointment would serve as the CEO of the district and would be paid.

I am most concerned about the loss of accreditation and what that will mean for the City of St. Louis. We already have 8,000 students who leave our city everyday to attend county schools. We have nearly 5,300 students who have enrolled in charter schools. We are already a district of choice. If we are unaccredited, state law requires us to open our school doors and allow students to leave the city if they so desire. A further decline in our enrollment will –

- make it harder to attract and retain highly qualified teachers.

- hamper our plans to revitalize our neighborhood schools and restore our magnet programs.

- likely result in additional school closings beyond what we currently face.

We have a plan in place to improve our school district. Further, each of our schools has its own site-specific plan to improve student achievement. Despite what you hear, we are stable and we are moving forward. We just need time to work this plan and begin to show St. Louis, and urban districts across the United States, how we can improve student achievement in a district stricken by poverty.