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Unaccredited no more: Riverview Gardens gets stamp of approval from state board for January upgrade

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.
File photo |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.

Updated at 5:30 p.m. with comments from superintendent — After almost a decade without accreditation from the state of Missouri, the Riverview Gardens School District in north St. Louis County will be reclassified as provisionally accredited effective Jan. 4.

The state board of education voted Friday for the classification upgrade to take effect on the first day of Riverview Gardens’ second semester on the recommendation of the Missouri Department of Education.

Riverview was last provisionally accredited in 2007.

Citing complex curriculum, a positive school climate and consistent leadership, assistant education commissioner Chris Neale said the department of education had concluded “despite any opinions to the contrary” Riverview Gardens “had significantly improved” and met state standards.

After approving Riverview’s provisional accreditation, state board member Mike Jones of St. Louis said “there is a myth that you can’t educate low-income children of color in public schools. And when I think about what Riverview Gardens has done, when I think about the Herculean effort of St. Louis Public Schools has made in the last few years, when I think about Maplewood and the extraordinary improvement of Jennings over the last four years , it makes a lie out of that myth.”

State board member Vic Lenz of St. Louis County echoed Neale and the head of Riverview Garden’s SAB in saying Superintendent Scott Spurgeon was the key to turning the district around.

“You had a board that put a leader in place, and that leader knew what was going on, and that leader knows what’s going on in every building,” Lenz said. “They’re focused on what needed to be done, and everyone knew their job with that. And they made it happen.”

Spurgeon, meanwhile, gave credit to the “tenacity and perseverance” of Riverview Garden’s students, parents and staff, as well as the district’s partners and community.

“All of their hard work to stay focused through all the obstacles we have faced over the past three years and achieve our goal of regaining district accreditation has been more than amazing,” Spurgeon said in a statement. “We could have just thrown in the towel for any number of reasons, but that’s not who we are. Every action reveals our character. I could not be more thankful to each person who has played a role in our great success. It has truly been a team effort.”

On the recommendation of the department of education, the state board tabled discussion of upgrading St. Louis Public Schools' classification until January.

Transfer plan

Noting that state education officials had received a number of letters from parents of students who had transferred out of Riverview into other school districts under the state law allowing transfers when districts are unaccredited, Neale said he understood why the parents asked for Riverview to remain unaccredited.

“I don’t blame the parents who wish their students to be stable in their current environment,” Neale said, “But I’m very pleased to announce to you this morning that all 22 educational entities that are receiving the 436 students have agreed at a minimum to keep them through second semester. That is a tremendous accomplishment. It exceeds the boundaries of the law.”

Riverview Gardens earlier initiated arrangements for the districts receiving their transfer students to keep teaching them at a lower cost until they reached a natural stopping point.

Neale said most of the 22 districts agreed to keep the transfer students for up to three years.

“I think it’s fair for the department to express its appreciation all around to those leaders on both sides of the line because they made tremendous and sometimes very courageous student-centered decisions,” Neale said. He added that he recommended Riverview receive its accreditation upgrade at the start of the second semester since all of the districts with Riverview transfer students had agreed to keep them through at least the end of the school year and Riverview had agreed to continue paying for transportation to Kirkwood and Mehlville through June.

Riverview Gardens School District spokesperson Melanie Powell-Robinson told St. Louis Public Radio that Kirkwood and Mehlville have both fully agreed to Riverview’s plan, and will continue to teach the transfer students enrolled in their schools until most reach a natural transition; up to three or four years.

As the districts where Riverview provided transportation, Kirkwood and Mehlville received many of the district’s transfer students. Powell-Robinson said Ferguson-Florissant, which also teaches many Riverview transfer students, has agreed to accept all of the students through the end of the school year and allow high school juniors to graduate from Ferguson-Florissant next year.

Follow Camille on Twitter: @cmpcamille