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St. Louis Public Schools Get Provisional Accreditation After Unanimous Board Vote

Marshall Griffin/St. Louis Public Radio

Updated at 4:57 p.m. with comments from DESE's Margie Vandeven; Peter Herschend, State Board of Education President; and Chris Nicastro, Mo. Education Commissioner.

St. Louis schools are no longer unaccredited, following a unanimous vote today by the State Board of Education. The struggling district, which has been under state control for five years, will now have provisional, but not full, accreditation.

During a presentation in Jefferson City, Margie Vandeven, Assistant Commissioner for the Office of Quality Schools within theDepartment of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE),told board members that the city’s school district still has a long way to go, but that significant progress has been made in both academic performance and financial management.

“The district indicates that the 2012-2013 budget represents the third consecutive year that the district will operate with a balanced budget and projected surplus," Vandeven said.  "So overall, we can report that we have seen substantial improvement since the time of loss of accreditation.”

DESE Commissioner Chris Nicastro summed it up this way just before the vote:  “The district has not arrived, but clearly they’ve started the journey.”

As for student performance, Vandeven told the State Board that the school district credits its progress to "a deep focus on literacy across all content areas and the use of focused instructional learning locks to insure fidelity of implementation."  Mary Armstrong, President of the American Federation of Teachers - St. Louis Local 420, says the focus must now shift to regaining full accreditation.

“We don’t have a full sunshiny day, but this is a small step towards a larger step to come," Armstrong said.

Today’s vote does not affect governance of the St. Louis City School District, which will remain under state control.  State Education Board President Peter Herschend says, in his opinion, it will take two to three years of sustained performance at an accredited level before the locally-elected school board can regain control of public schools in St. Louis.

"The local elected board is what got the district into trouble in the first place," Herschend said.  "With the transition of, I think it was, 10 superintendents in a period of 15 years...that is the responsibility of the local board...(of) the other (500+) districts in the state, only 10 of them are having anything approaching the difficulty that St. Louis had."

Earlier story:

As our own Marshall Griffin reported, St. Louis schools lost their accreditation five years ago and were soon after placed under state control, but they have improved over the past two years.

In 2010, they only met 3 out of 14 performance standards, with six being the minimum require for provisional accreditation. Last year they met the minimum six, and this year they’ve met seven performance standards.

Missouri Governor Jay Nixon released a statement following the vote encouraging the work the district has already done to continue:

“The decision today by the State Board of Education to reclassify the St. Louis Public School District as provisionally accredited recognizes the real progress the district has made over the past five years. I applaud this commitment to improvement and the strong support shown by St. Louis business leaders and the entire community, and I urge the district’s leadership, teachers, students and families to keep up their hard work. It is vital that this progress continues because the children of St. Louis need and deserve an outstanding education and a district that has earned full accreditation.”

AFT Local 420, the local union representing the teachers of SLPS, also released a statement in praise of the decision, though, they say, they are not completely satisfied:

"The employees of this SLPS are excited about the Districted being granted provisional accreditation,"  said AFT St. Louis, Local 420 President Mary J. Armstrong, "it demonstrates that dedication, hard work and perseverance pay off." In a statement from Jefferson City Armstrong said, "District-Union collaboration, financial sacrifices, parental involvement, and student ownership in his/her education have brought us thus far on our journey towards full accreditation. This is one of the giant steps on the path. Although, we are pleased with our progress, we are not content. We won't be completely satisfied until full accreditation has been granted to SLPS.I would like to express our Union's membership appreciation to the State Board of Education, the Commisioner and DESE for making the right decision." Armstrong added, "All of the stakeholders pulled together for the good of our students and our community we are committed to working with the district to keep making positive progress we all work better together."

We will update this story with more information as we know it.

Marshal was a political reporter for St. Louis Public Radio until 2018.