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Former Imagine students may move to city schools as a group

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, May 9, 2012 - The next 10 days may determine whether students who had been attending Imagine schools will be able to move as a group to so-called "choice schools" that will be part of the St. Louis Public Schools system.

Since the state Board of Education shut down the Imagine charter schools last month, one day after becoming their sponsor, about 3,800 students and their families have been shopping around for their next option.

A second enrollment fair, to give everyone a better idea of what is available, will be held this Saturday from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. at South City Preparatory Academy, 2900 South Grand, with a third one set for Tuesday, June 5, from 4-7 p.m. at Imagine Academy of Environmental Science and Math, 1008 South Spring.

So far, according to Patrick Wallace, spokesman for the city school system, about 800 students from Imagine schools have enrolled to attend St. Louis Public Schools in the fall; another 200 had already sought applications to magnet schools.

But those students may not have to enter a new school and also have new classmates. Boards of the individual Imagine schools have been meeting with city and state education officials in intensive efforts to see whether the student bodies can transfer en masse to “choice schools” within the city school system.

Wallace said Superintendent Kelvin Adams has set a deadline of May 18 to determine whether there is enough interest in such a group move. If so, he said, the city plans to establish three choice schools – one elementary, one middle and one high school – where the Imagine students can attend with their classmates.

Under state funding rules, the money that now follows students to charters, which are operated with public dollars, would go with them if they enroll in schools in the city system. Depending on how many students go to city schools, and in what configuration, it’s unclear how many extra teachers and other staff members might have to be hired to teach them.

Unlike charter schools, choice schools in the city system operate under the management of the St. Louis Public Schools. They are not neighborhood schools, so the city would provide transportation.

They are different from pilot schools, which also are part of the city school system but are neighborhood schools that have a greater degree of autonomy and have their own governing board while still being responsible to the superintendent and the Special Administrative Board.

They also are different from the city's magnet schools, which specialize in a particular subject matter. Magnet schools are also open to white students from St. Louis County under the voluntary desegregation plan.

Promotional literature from the city school system describes choice schools as places that “provide students with intimate, personalized learning environments and ‘hands on’ educational experiences that prepare them for the future. … The schools also enable students to engage in an education supported by strong partnerships with universities, technical schools and local corporations.”

To become eligible to attend a current choice high school, the district says, students are judged on several criteria, including grades, attendance and disciplinary records. They also need to submit an essay and be interviewed by a school’s selection committee.

Currently, the city schools operate three choice high schools – Carnahan, where the emphasis is on technology; Clyde C. Miller, which focuses on career and technical education; and Northwest, which focuses on preparing students for careers in law and law enforcement. Wallace said that if the Imagine students move into new city choice schools, they would have no entrance requirements.

If the plan for Imagine school students to attend choice schools comes together, Wallace said, the elementary school would be housed at Madison School; the middle school would be at Stowe School, a closed building that would reopen; and the high school would operate at Northwest as part of a dual campus with the school that is there now but has a small enrollment.

Earlier, there had been speculation that boards of the Imagine schools might try to remain charters, under a different sponsor. To do so, they would have had to receive approval from the state Board of Education, which meets next week.

As of Tuesday, no such plan had been submitted for the state board's approval, and because time is growing short before parents have to decide where their children will attend classes this fall, that option appears to have faded away.

Under the choice school plan, no state approval would be needed. But, because of the tight timeline, Wallace emphasized that decisions need to be made soon, so Adams has set a deadline of May 18.

“The superintendent was quite clear that we have to know by then,” he said. “He’s not going to open a building if there is not enough interest in opening a building. Economically, it wouldn’t make sense, because we have enough space in all of our schools for the Imagine students. But if it is an option for them to stay together, he is looking to create these schools for them.”

Dale Singer began his career in professional journalism in 1969 by talking his way into a summer vacation replacement job at the now-defunct United Press International bureau in St. Louis; he later joined UPI full-time in 1972. Eight years later, he moved to the Post-Dispatch, where for the next 28-plus years he was a business reporter and editor, a Metro reporter specializing in education, assistant editor of the Editorial Page for 10 years and finally news editor of the newspaper's website. In September of 2008, he joined the staff of the Beacon, where he reported primarily on education. In addition to practicing journalism, Dale has been an adjunct professor at University College at Washington U. He and his wife live in west St. Louis County with their spoiled Bichon, Teddy. They have two adult daughters, who have followed them into the word business as a communications manager and a website editor, and three grandchildren. Dale reported for St. Louis Public Radio from 2013 to 2016.

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