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Unaccredited Normandy, Riverview Gardens get praise from state, parents, staff

If the parents and staff of Riverview Gardens were making the decision, the school district would soon no longer be unaccredited.

Parents, students, teachers and principals praised the district’s improvement by the dozens Monday night at a public hearing state officials held at Westview Middle School.

“Everything we heard about Riverview was bad: Don’t go there, teachers are sub-par. Your kids won’t learn anything,” said Chaz Brown.

He and his wife Shernette still enrolled their twin sons in the district three years ago when they were in the first grade after moving from the Hazelwood School District.

“It’s been the total opposite of what everybody expected and everybody said. And so I have nothing but appreciation and gratitude for the district,” Brown said.

Ashley Mosley said she loves Koch Elementary because it encourages the parents and the staff to work together, and because the principal greets the students every morning when they arrive.

“There used to be a time when my child would come home and sometimes he wouldn’t really understand how to do his homework,” Mosley said. “But now he’s able to do things on his own with either little or none of my help and he also helps his little brother.”

Special education teacher Joshua Aasgaard said Riverview Gardens has improved by leaps and bounds from the time he started working there 10 years ago.

“I mean the attitude of everyone at every level has changed. The quality is just outstanding. And the rigor of the work is 10,000 times what it used to be,” Aasgaard said.

For the second year in a row, Riverview Gardens earned enough points on the state’s 2016 Annual Performance Review to be at the accredited level, although the district scored fewer points this year than it did the year before.

The state board of education is expected to consider upgrading Riverview from unaccredited to provisionally accredited at its board meeting on Dec. 2.

Credit Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio
Margie Vandeven congratulated Riverview Gardens on earning a district report card in the accredited range for a second year.

“The parents and community support certainly speaks volumes for what the community would like to see,” said Margie Vandeven, who heads the state’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

The department will recommend whether school districts are ready for an accreditation upgrade to the state board.

The only person to speak against a status upgrade at the hearing was Zena Herron, who lives in the district but enrolled her daughter elsewhere before Riverview Gardens lost accreditation.

Herron said she believed Superintendent Scott Spurgeon didn’t talk enough about state test scores.


At the 

Normandy High School sophomore Marelle Dotson reports from a small group discussion on improving academics.
Credit Dale Singer | St. Louis Public Radio
Normandy High School sophomore Marelle Dotson reports from a small group discussion on improving academics.

DESE public hearing in Normandy, Vandeven said that even though the state gave the district six semesters to improve when it formed the new Normandy Schools Collaborative in 2014, she is encouraged by the progress it has made so far.

“We knew there would have to be a time when we would have to make a decision on whether or not we would continue forward,” she said. “Right now, all indications are that we should continue forward with the district. They're doing some great things here and we're happy to see that.

“You’ll also see in the climate and the environment that it’s a different place. We do see that they’re making some improvements, and they’ve also said very clearly we still have a long way to go.”

Superintendent Charles Pearson told the crowd at Lucas Crossing elementary school that the number of students transferring out of the district because it is unaccredited has dropped to 577 from 619 at the start of the school year, and 180 of those transfers never attended Normandy schools in the first place.

He praised area corporations and other partners who have helped the district improve its performance and its culture, and he said that while Normandy has reason to celebrate how far it has come, everyone has to realize the work is far from over. “We know that we need to go further,” Pearson said.

This year’s APR for Normandy was 54.6 percent of the points possible – up from just 7 percent two years ago.

One area where the district showed strong improvement was attendance, where it got 7.5 points after earning no points in that category for the past two years. Attendance was a big focus in a recent public hearing in Normandy, and it got more attention Monday night, along with the other components of the APR – academics, graduation rate and college and career readiness.

Follow Dale and Camille on Twitter: @Dalesinger @cmpcamille.

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.