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Normandy superintendent announces changes to help district win full accreditation

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, May 27, 2010 - Declaring the Normandy schools to be "almost in critical condition," Superintendent Stanton Lawrence has released a blueprint designed to help the district avoid the fate that led to the end of neighboring Wellston schools and the takeover by the state of Riverview Gardens.

Among the steps announced at a news conference at the district's Lucas Crossing Elementary Complex Thursday morning are:

  • New principals at eight of the district's 11 schools, recruited after what Lawrence called a nationwide search.
  • Transformation of the district's high school and middle school, as required by their status as among the worst-performing schools in Missouri.
  • An emphasis on effective teaching, with Lawrence saying that teachers who do not perform adequately could find their jobs in danger.
  • Plans for how the district will absorb students from Wellston into Normandy schools beginning this fall.

Citing a quote from President Barack Obama -- "The relative decline of American education is untenable for our economy, unsustainable for our democracy, and unacceptable for our children, and we cannot afford to let it continue" -- Lawrence said:
"That's the point where we are today in Normandy."

To underscore his assessment, Lawrence noted that Normandy, which currently has only provisional accreditation from the state, has met only five of the 14 performance standards set by Missouri education officials. Only one of those five reflects adequate student achievement, which are the scores of students in 3-5 grades on communication arts.

Other standards where Normandy has been judged satisfactory are the advanced courses and career education courses it offers and its record of college and career education placement.

But it needs to meet nine of the 14 standards to gain full accreditation, and so far students have not met that goal in math at any grade level; in communication arts in grades 6-8 or 9-11; or on the ACT, graduation rate, attendance rate or subgroup achievement.

Other statistics showed the district's status in a graphic manner. Compared with a trend line that shows continued improvement statewide on math and communication arts tests over the past four years, Normandy's performance has been relatively flat. And a chart showing MAP test index points for various districts in the St. Louis area ranked Normandy third from the bottom, ahead of only Riverview Gardens and Wellston.

Cozy Marks III, president of the Normandy school board, said such results will condemn the district's students to "a future of uncertainty and failure."

"The academic progress we are making in the Normandy School District is not adequate," Marks said.

Added Lawrence: "We're going to have to do some things dramatically different."

State education officials say there is no time limit for provisional accreditation and it is not tantamount to probationary status. But Lawrence said full accreditation is the district's goal and he plans to meet soon with Chris Nicastro, Missouri's commissioner for elementary and secondary education, to discuss Normandy's push to become accredited.

Some critics have wondered how much better off Wellston students will be going from their unaccredited district that was dissolved to Normandy, which has only provisional accreditation. When Nicastro announced the action, she cited what she said was the progress that Normandy had shown and said she hoped it would continue.

To aid in the transition, Lawrence said Thursday that efforts will be made over the summer to get the incoming students acquainted with Normandy, including a "buddy system" where two Normandy students would be assigned to each incoming Wellston student.

As far as another part of the merger goes, Lawrence said it was not yet determined how many teachers from Wellston might be hired by Normandy.

Among the other upcoming changes listed by Lawrence will be new leadership at Bel-Ridge, Garfield, Lucas Crossing, Normandy Middle, Pine Lawn and Washington schools along with the district's Kindergarten and Early Childhood center and its Positive Alternative Learning Center. Next January, Garfield and Pine Lawn will close, with their 400 students moving into a new elementary school in Pine Lawn.

Also, Lawrence said ninth graders will be separated from other grades to attend their own academy, with a netbook computer for each student. He said he hopes to extend the computer program into grades 10-12 in coming years. Ninth graders will attend single-sex classrooms in core subjects, Lawrence said.

Normandy Middle School will be transformed into a so-called STEM school, concentrating on science, technology, engineering and math.

To help pay for the changes, Normandy has applied for several grants totaling nearly $10 million. For its application for a three-year, $5 million Investing in Innovation grant, it has been promised a 20 percent match by a corporation that Lawrence declined to name.

Finally, Lawrence said the district is completing a strategic planning process, "making the types of decisions that will dramatically alter our lack of progress."

One of the key elements, he said, is making sure that students and staff treat each other with respect. "Our students should be able to come to school and be greeted warmly and treated with dignity," Lawrence said, adding that the reverse should be true as well.

One of the key elements, he said, is making sure that students and staff treat each other with respect. "Our students should be able to come to school and be greeted warmly and treated with dignity," Lawrence said, adding that the reverse should be true as well.