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Ferguson-Florissant School Board places superintendent on administrative leave

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon. - Art McCoy, superintendent of the Ferguson-Florissant School District since July 2011, has been placed on administrative leave with pay by the district’s board because of "differences in focus and philosophy.”

In a statement from the district Thursday afternoon, board president Paul T. Morris said the action is not an indication of any wrongdoing on McCoy’s part.

"As this is a personnel matter,” Morris said, “we cannot disclose further details; however, the board feels that it is in the best interest of the district to address this situation by placing the superintendent on paid administrative leave as we work through the areas of concern.”

In McCoy’s absence, Larry Larrew, the district’s chief accountability officer, will serve as interim superintendent, effective immediately. No end date was place on McCoy’s leave.

"Educating the students of FFSD is the No. 1 priority of the district,” Morris said in the statement, “and the board is confident that Mr. Larrew will provide capable leadership to continue our mission during this time.”

The board voted 6-1 in favor of putting McCoy on leave at a meeting on Wednesday night, with board member Paul Schroeder voting against the move. McCoy was present at the meeting, according to Jana Shortt, the district's spokeswoman.

McCoy's contract as superintendent was renewed in April of this year, to run through June 30, 2016. His current salary is $217,644.

McCoy has been seen as an up-and-coming school administrator in the St. Louis area. He was named superintendent in the north St. Louis County district at the age of 33 and began his teaching career at the age of 19 at his alma mater, Lafayette High School in the Rockwood school district.

According to a biography linked from his page on the Ferguson-Florissant website, he has worked as an administrator in St. Charles, Pattonville and Rockwood as well as teaching at UMSL, Lindenwood and Maryville universities. He is featured on billboards around town as an UMSL alumnus.

He was an assistant superintendent in Ferguson-Florissant for three years before being elevated to the top spot. He replaced Jeffrey Spiegel, who retired.

When the law allowing students to transfer from unaccredited schools in Normandy and Riverview Gardens was upheld by the Missouri Supreme Court earlier this year, McCoy was active in getting the word out that the transfers would be welcome in Ferguson-Florissant.

According to the latest figures, 230 students traferred there from Riverview Gardens and 96 more came from Normandy. The district has about 12,000 students.

Ferguson-Florissant’s own academic status appeared shaky after this year’s state evaluations were released. With a score of 70 percent required for full accreditation, Ferguson-Florissant fell one point short. McCoy said at the time that he knew where the district needed to improve and was already working on plans to strengthen student performance.

At the time, he told the Beacon that he felt that the standards set under the latest version of the Missouri School Improvement Plan were “stretch goals,” adding:

"We’re up to the challenge. I love the charge because the students deserve the best. We’re optimistic and confident that we’ll be there by the time MSIP5 is in place for school accountability.”

Ferguson-Florissant has been a leader in using student data to focus on areas that need improvement.

McCoy’s biography says that besides serving as superintendent, he also is the founder of SAGES, Severing the Achievement Gap in the Education of Students, a consulting firm that he began in 2007.

Responding to the news of McCoy’s being placed on leave, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education said in a statement:

"Matters of employment and personnel decisions are made by the local board of education. The department is in communication with the Ferguson-Florissant School District and will provide support as necessary to ensure a smooth transition for the students.”

In 2011, at a commencement speech at UMSL, McCoy told graduates that their special challenges was not abolishing slavery or fighting in the desert.

"Education is the foremost civil right and human right issue of this generation with more than 60 million students in public schools," he said.

"We are at war against ignorance."

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.