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Despite progress, Riverview Gardens likely to remain unaccredited

Former Riverview Gardens Superintendent Scott Spurgeon discusses the district's progress at a state hearing on May 5, 2016.
Dale Singer
St. Louis Public Radio
Former Riverview Gardens Superintendent Scott Spurgeon discusses the district's progress at a state hearing on May 5, 2016.

Riverview Gardens has made solid gains over the past two years, but Missouri education officials will not recommend that the state board upgrade the district from unaccredited to provisionally accredited for the coming school year.

A better level of accreditation would mean that students who live in the district could no longer transfer to schools in other districts, as they have since the Missouri Supreme Court upheld the state’s transfer law in 2013.

Scott Spurgeon, who started as superintendent in the district in 2013, said Tuesday that he had hoped for the change in classification, but he preferred keeping the emphasis on the strides Riverview Gardens has made so far.

“On the one hand,” Spurgeon said in an interview, “would I have wanted to see the classification upgrade? Absolutely. I think our students, out staff, our parents and our community deserve that. On the other hand, it continues to verify that we're making progress and I'm very proud of that.”

Because of the district’s steady improvement, the state board of education asked the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education for a special review of Riverview Gardens this spring. Typically, school district classifications are reviewed in the fall, after annual performance reports are issued.

Discussion of Riverview Gardens’ status is on the agenda for the state school board’s meeting next Tuesday in Jefferson City. But information for the meeting released this Tuesday said that DESE officials would be making no recommendation that the district’s classification be upgraded at this time.

“We will be running them through the normal annual performance report in the fall,” assistant commissioner Chris Neale said in an interview. “We don't have any desire except that they be successful. We don't have a gain in not recommending them for improved classification if it can be justified.”

In January, at the request of the state board, Neale presented a framework that could be used to determine whether Riverview Gardens would be upgraded to provisional accreditation status. The review included such areas as curriculum, finances, student achievement, climate and culture, and effective teachers.

Neale said that for the department to recommend an upgrade to provisional accreditation, the district would have had to show satisfactory improvement in all areas, but it fell short.

“I have to tell you they've worked real hard,” Neale said. “They've made some great improvements, but just not enough for me to say I recommend improved classification at this time.”

If the state board follows DESE’s lead and takes no action to upgrade the district’s classification, Riverview Gardens will remain one of only two unaccredited districts in Missouri. The other is Normandy.

Since the first year that student transfers from unaccredited districts were allowed, the number of students who left Riverview Gardens has dropped. It started at more than 1,000, but about half that number signed up to transfer in the fall. Spurgeon noted that some of the decrease has come from students who graduated or moved but in other cases students who transferred decided to come back to the district.

Even if the accreditation status for Riverview Gardens is upgraded to provisional, that wouldn’t necessarily mean the end of the transfers. Margie Vandeven, commissioner of education, has said she would like to see other districts continue to accept Riverview Gardens students, at least until they reach a logical transition point, so their education is not disrupted.

Legislative efforts to change the transfer law have been unsuccessful. Laws passed in the first two years after the transfer was upheld by the Missouri Supreme Court were vetoed by Gov. Jay Nixon; laws introduced this year went nowhere.

Parents whose children have thrived in districts outside Riverview Gardens have consistently asked state education officials not to grant the district provisional accreditation, citing areas where they say more improvement is needed.

Riverview Gardens Superintendent Scott Spurgeon (center) talks with state board member John Martin (left) and deputy education commissioner Ron Lankford at the state school board meeting in October 2015.
Credit Dale Singer | St. Louis Public Radio
Riverview Gardens Superintendent Scott Spurgeon, center, talks with state board member John Martin, left, and deputy education commissioner Ron Lankford at the state school board meeting in October 2015.

Spurgeon said that while the district waits for its regular accreditation review this fall, after its annual performance report comes out, he will work to make sure that progress continues.

“That allows us the opportunity to continue to work toward a very positive district report card in the fall,” he said, “and do our best to provide the numbers for the state board of education to act upon our request to change our classification.

He said he is certain that change will come.

“I'm an optimistic person,” Spurgeon said. “I continue to believe that it's not if we get our accreditation back, it's going to be when.”

Follow Dale Singer on Twitter: @dalesinger

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.