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Superintendent Adams announces pilot schools

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, July 28, 2009 - City school officials are converting five elementary schools into what's known as pilot schools, giving educators and neighborhood residents more autonomy over school decisions that used to be made downtown.

Patterned after a similar program in Boston, the pilot schools will each be run by five-member advisory boards, consisting of the principal, a teacher, a parent and two community representatives. School Superintendent Kelvin Adams says the goal is to give residents more of a sense of ownership of schools in their neighborhoods.

The five elementary schools are Froebel, Herzog, Hodgen, Jefferson and Mason. With this autonomy come commitments to meet academic objectives, such as improving reading or math scores.

Adams hopes the change will persuade parents to enroll their children in pilot schools instead of sending them to schools elsewhere because schools outside of the district are perceived as being better.

"We're giving them more autonomy to manage themselves," he says. "The advisory board will consist of people who know the area and are better able to make decisions about kids in that area."

Adams said the schools would have control over budget and staffing immediately and would later have full autonomy over other functions, including curriculum. He said as many as 90 percent of teachers in the affected schools supported pilot schools.

Adams also said the lead abatement was moving foward but that the district had to rebid part of the program because the bids were higher than what was budgeted. He added that the district intended to shore up community-school programs this fall by insisting that activities include ones promoting learning.

The superintendent is convinced that principals will be better prepared to run schools this fall because of the professional development training that he insisted they undergo this summer. The training was underwritten in part by Civic Progress and Washington University, and it focused on managerial skills, academic issues and best practices from other school districts, he said.

Adams refused to offer any projections of fall enrollment. During the summer, some officials suggested the district could lose as many as 1,000 children to charter schools. Last term, the district served nearly 23,000 children.

To give kids an incentive to show up from the first day, 500 children will have a chance to win two tickets each to a Rams game.

In an unrelated matter, Adams acknowledged that his wife had taken an administrative position in the Wellston district. The couple were married about a week before Adams came to St. Louis. She worked in New Orleans before moving to St. Louis.

"I'm glad she's here," he said.

Robert Joiner has carved a niche in providing informed reporting about a range of medical issues. He won a Dennis A. Hunt Journalism Award for the Beacon’s "Worlds Apart" series on health-care disparities. His journalism experience includes working at the St. Louis American and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, where he was a beat reporter, wire editor, editorial writer, columnist, and member of the Washington bureau.