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Big Questions And Small Ones Linger About Normandy

Courtesy Normandy School District

While the Missouri board of education wrestles with big questions concerning  Normandy schools – who will run them, how will the curriculum change, how can student achievement be raised – parents in the district have much more personal concerns:

Will their children still be able to transfer to nearby accredited districts in the coming school year?

The state board is expected to clear up some of the uncertainty about the district’s future at its meeting today in Jefferson City. It voted last month to dissolve the district as of June 30, to be replaced the next day by the Normandy Schools Collaborative, but many details on how it will operate were left undecided.

Chris Nicastro, commissioner of elementary and secondary education, gave some indication earlier this month of recommendations her department will present to the state board on Monday. She said she would recommend that Normandy have no accreditation status at all, as opposed to its current status as unaccredited, and that while the approximately 1,000 students who transferred this past school year would be allowed to do so again, no new transfers would be allowed.

She also said she would recommend that the financial drain on Normandy’s budget be eased by a cap on tuition paid to districts receiving transfer students of about $7,200 each – approximately the same amount that is paid to districts accepting transfer students under the voluntary desegregation plan. Tuition this past year ranged up to $20,000, with none as low as $7,200.

The recommendations that Nicastro said would be presented by DESE still have to be accepted by the state board, so for a bit more parents remain in limbo about where their children might be attending classes when the new school year begins.

'I don’t want to move him'

In an effort to help clarify the situation for parents – as much as possible, anyway – the Children’s Education Alliance of Missouri held an informational meeting last week at the Indian Trails branch of the St. Louis County Public Library.

There, the organization urged parents to contact the state board about their transfer concerns and other issues surrounding the new Normandy entity. It also released avideo featuring parents who want to make sure the transfer program remains as broad-based as possible.

Parents who spoke with St. Louis Public Radio had the same message.

Savonna Stacey transferred her son Jonathan to kindergarten in Ritenour last school year and worries about what a change would mean as he moves on to first grade.

“He’s used to the environment and I’m used to it, as well,” Stacey said.  “You know, I don’t want to move him to anything new right now, I just want to keep what we have.”

As the school year closed with lingering questions about the transfer process, she began considering moving into the district to keep Jonathan in the same school. 

Portia Porter is also concerned about making tough choices. She transferred both of her sons, Keven and Jeffery, to middle school in Rockwood last school year.

“As a parent, you know your children, you know what’s best for them,” Porter said.  “I felt that this best for my children, they’re doing wonderful in the school that they’re in.”

She recalled that Kevin and Jeffery got a chilly reception in Rockwood early on, but as the semester progressed, Porter said they came to feel more and more welcome. By the time the year drew to a close, parents in the district offered to put up her two sons during the week to ease their travel burden.  

“Next year it would be a little less challenging,” Porter said, “because I know people out there who are willing to help me.”

Alisa Thompson is hoping her daughter, Tamia, will spend her senior year in University City.  Nevertheless, she’s spent plenty of time thinking about what might happen if Tamia is no longer able to transfer.  

“I try not to let it bother me,” Thompson said.  “I try to stay positive. I’ve prayed on it.”

Since last month’s board meeting, state education officials have been busy trying to complete the details of the transition to the Normandy Schools Collaborative.

A transition task force that presented recommendations to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education spelled out many of the paths it thought the new Normandy should take. But filling in those broad strokes has taken up a lot of attention in recent weeks.

Ty McNichols
Credit Normandy School District
The future is unclear for Normandy Superintendent Ty McNichols, whose contract lapses on June 30.

Sources say many people have been asked about their willingness to serve on the appointed board of the new entity, including members of the current elected board. Making sure that the board has the right mix of people who understand the needs, nuances and history of the district will be seen as a crucial step in its success.

Still unclear is how big the new board will be and how many elected board members will be included, if any.

Also unclear is the future of Superintendent Ty McNichols, who began his job running the district last July 1, just as planning for the transfers began. His contract, like those of all employees of the district, will lapse on June 30. As that date approaches, teachers and others who have re-applied for their jobs have been interviewed by teams made up of people from the district, the state, the University of Missouri-St. Louis and other sources.

Other issues that could be decided by the state board Monday include when the new school year will start in Normandy and what role a lengthy plan for improving achievement that McNichols and his administration put together will play in the new school organization.

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.