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Progress Report: Normandy School Hiring Hits 80 Percent; Will Try 'Flipped' Classrooms

File | St. Louis Public Radio

With two weeks to go until teachers report for the beginning of the new school year, the Normandy Schools Collaborative said Monday it has hired 80 percent of the staff it needs, from custodians to principals.

But just to make sure it hasn’t overlooked any good teachers who are still looking for employment, the district said it will be holding a job fair two days later this week.

The announcement comes as the state board of education prepares to meet in Jefferson City on Tuesday. At the meeting, the board will be updated on progress made in Normandy, both in education and in administrative and financial matters.

Also on the state board’s agenda is a request by the Kansas City school district to be upgraded from its current unaccredited status to temporary provisional accreditation — at least until a determination of the district’s status is made after new test scores and evaluation data are released next month.

DESE spokeswoman Sarah Potter said the board has never given a district temporary provisional accreditation before. She said education officials would make a recommendation on whether the state board should grant the request but she would not say what that recommendation will be.

Normandy still looking for teachers

When the Normandy school district went out of existence on June 30, and was replaced by the state-run Normandy Schools Collaborative the next day, all contracts with teachers and other personnel lapsed. The district has been conducting job interviews for several weeks, seeking to fill the staff with educators who can conduct classes according to the new techniques the state is imposing.

Top administrators, like Superintendent Tyrone McNichols, will be working without contracts, so their jobs will hinge on their performance.

Daphne Dorsey, spokeswoman for the district, refused to specify how many people have been hired or what percentage of those who have jobs with the new Normandy worked for the district before the state takeover. She said the district did not want to disclose those numbers at this time but would not say why.

On its website, Normandy lists  jobs available in 13 separate areas: academic subjects, such as reading and French, art and music, physical education, the library and the counseling office. Dorsey said some of those positions might need more than one staffer, so the district may need more than 13 more hires.

To try to find those people, Normandy announced a job fair later this week. On Thursday, applicants can come to Barack Obama Elementary School, 3883 Jennings Station Road, from 4-7:30 p.m. On Saturday, the session will be held at the Lucas Crossing Elementary Complex, 7837 Natural Bridge Road from 9 a.m.- 1 p.m.

The district said that anyone interested in applying to work in Normandy should pre-register by completing an on-line application at http://www.normandysc.org. Candidates should bring a copy of their resume, available transcripts, three references and current certification.

Part of the on-line registration process includes completing a lesson plan and taking an assessment designed to show a prospective teacher’s aptitude for succeeding in a district like Normandy.

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, which has been closely monitoring preparations for the upcoming school year, noted Monday that one of the techniques being introduced to the district will be so-called “flipped classrooms.”

In that teaching method, as a story in the St. Louis Beacon explained, instead of a teacher lecturing during the day and giving students questions to do at home afterward, students watch lectures online before class, then discuss the topic and work through problems in class.

Typically, teachers use class time to lecture on the topic at hand — whether it’s differential equations, the Civil War or Shakespeare — fulfilling the traditional role of the wise person who stands in front of the students and tells them what they need to know. Then students go home and work on lessons that show they have mastered the topic.

But when schools flip the usual order of things, students use their time at home to watch the teacher’s lectures — as often as they must to learn the material — typically viewing them online or on DVD. Then they come to the next class period to work on problems, getting help from the teacher or working collaboratively with their fellow students.

DESE said facilities in Normandy will be available for extended hours for students who don’t have online access at home.

DESE has also announced that Peter Kachris has been appointed as the department’s on-site liaison to keep communication running smoothly between Normandy and state education officials. Kachris formerly was superintendent of the Special School District and most recently was president of St. Joseph Institute for the Deaf in St. Louis.

A budget for the upcoming year is expected to be introduced at the meeting of the Normandy Joint Executive Governing Board on Wednesday evening at 6 p.m. at the district’s headquarters.

Status of Kansas City schools uncertain

Kansas City schools became unaccredited on Jan. 1, 2013. But unlike in the St. Louis area, where more than 2,000 students took advantage of a state law last year that let them transfer from unaccredited Normandy and Riverview Gardens to nearby accredited schools, no transfers occurred from Kansas City because of a separate court case.

In their state evaluation last summer, the Kansas City schools scored 60 percent, which would put them in the provisional accreditation range. In December, the district sued the state board of education seeking provisional accreditation based on its first-year score under the new evaluation system.

When the Missouri Supreme Court paved the way for transfers to begin from Kansas City for the coming school year, only two dozen students signed up to enroll in accredited districts. One possible reason cited for relative lack of interest is the presence of charter schools in Kansas City as an alternative to the unaccredited district schools.

The request from Kansas City is reminiscent of a similar move by St. Louis Public Schools when that district was unaccredited in 2012. After district evaluations came out in August, the city schools asked DESE to be upgraded to be provisionally accredited.

At first, Commissioner Chris Nicastro said that while the numbers showed the city schools were improving, they had not shown enough sustained growth to merit the change in status. But she later changed her mind and recommended the district be provisionally accredited, a recommendation that the state board adopted. Because of the change, the district avoided having students transfer out to accredited districts last year.

But when state scores came out last summer, the St. Louis schools scored poorly, earning 24.6 percent of the possible evaluation points. Districts need 50 percent to be provisionally accredited. State officials said they want two or three years of data from the latest evaluation plan before recommending any changes in status, so they did not recommend moving the city schools back into unaccredited territory.

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.