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Nicastro Picks Normandy's New Board Members Today

Chris Nicastro
DESE website

Updated 2:03 p.m.

Here are three names of new board members, confirmed by St. Louis Public Radio: 

  • Reginald Dickson, Normandy resident/serves on board of Beyond Housing

  • Charles Pearson, retired administrator/resident/Task Force

  • Richard Ryffel, past-president Beyond Housing//Executive Director J.P. Morgan Bank

JEFFERSON CITY — With two weeks to go until the state of Missouri takes over the Normandy schools, under a new name and with an appointed board, education officials worked over the weekend to confirm who would be running the district and under what circumstances.
In advance of her presentation to the state board of education in Jefferson City Monday, Chris Nicastro, the state’s commissioner of elementary and secondary education, told reporters Friday that invitations to be on the governing panel — to be called the Joint Executive Governing Board (JEGB) — remained tentative.

“Our hope is that we will be able to appoint a full board by Monday,” she said. “If that is not possible, we will likely appoint those that we have, with the understanding that we will be naming additional board members in the next several weeks.”

Superintendent Ty McNichols and all other administrators will be at-will employees, without contracts.

Referring to her department’s experience in 2010 in setting up a special administrative board to run the Riverview Gardens school district, Nicastro said she wants to make sure the new Normandy board and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education have a good working relationship.

“One of the things we learned in Riverview Gardens,” she said, “was that while the governing board can be in place by July 1, there is a need for very close interaction and support from this department. In this case, of course, ultimately the board will be operated under the authority of the state board of education.”

The transition task force that came up with many of the recommendations being forwarded to the state board called for a governing board of five to seven people, with one or two of them being members of the current elected board.

As far as the kind of people she is looking for to serve on the board, Nicastro said:

“We’re more concerned with getting the right group of people than with hitting either one of those specific numbers. As we get people to accept, we’re looking for good talent.

“We want to make sure we have major community representation, either people who live in Normandy itself or people who have worked in and around the Normandy community for a long period of time -- people who in other words would be well known and well accepted by people of the district and would be representing their interests.”

As previously reported, Nicastro said that she would recommend that the new district — called the Normandy Schools Collaborative — have no accreditation status, as opposed to the unaccredited status of the current Normandy district that will lapse as of June 30.

She said that such action is authorized by a state law that took effect last year, allowing the state board of education to waive its own administrative rules.

Under the new governing board, she said, the new district will develop a plan designed to improve student academic achievement, as well as institute professional development for teachers, wraparound services to help students be prepared to learn and the use of data to keep close track of the district’s performance.

Based on performance benchmarks established by DESE, the district’s accreditation status will be reviewed annually by the state board, Nicastro said.

Nicastro said the board also is expected to adopt a budget designed to keep the new Normandy afloat financially so it can afford to pay tuition for students who transfer and provide education for those who remain. She had said earlier that only students who had transferred from Normandy during the past school year would be able to continue to attend nearby accredited districts, but the board will have the final say on that issue.

Also figuring into that calculation will be whether students who transfer to one designated district will have their transportation paid for, as it was to Francis Howell schools during the past school year.

Education officials have presented a range of seven options for the state board to consider, from allowing new transfers to restricting transfers to those who went to other districts last year but providing no transportation.

“In a perfect world,” Nicastro said, “if finances weren’t a consideration, we certainly would want the children who transferred to be able to continue and we would want to be able to continue their transportation. The board has asked for serious options because their first and foremost consideration is maintaining the schools in the Normandy school district, and they want to make sure they have sufficient financial capability to do that.”

Nicastro said the board is expected to vote on a school calendar that would start school on Aug. 18 this year. The school year starting this August would last 183 days. But, for next year, 2015-2016, DESE is proposing year-round classes for Normandy, with 195 days of classes compared with the state minimum of 174.

The DESE proposals also include a detailed timeline to help improve academic achievement from July 1, the day the state takes over, with a totally revamped approach.

“Starting fresh,” department documents said, “allows a state, district, or other authorizing entity to break the cycle of low achievement by making deep and fundamental changes to the way the school operates.”

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.