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State School Board Denies Riverview Gardens' Appeal For Full Accreditation

Students listen to a book reading during a giveaway event at Koch Elementary School in Riverview Gardens School District on March 2, 2017.
File Photo | Ryan Delaney | St. Louis Public Radio
Students listen to a book reading during a giveaway event at Koch Elementary School in Riverview Gardens School District on March 2, 2017.

Riverview Gardens will remain a provisionally accredited school district, after the Missouri State Board of Education declined to vote on its petition for full accreditation.

The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education had recommended that the board deny the request because the district didn’t score enough points on its annual performance report for full accreditation.

Chris Neale, the assistant commissioner of education, acknowledged that Riverview Gardens faces many challenges in regaining status with the state. Many of the district’s students are highly mobile and switch schools frequently. Riverview Gardens is also still paying transfer tuition for students who opted to attend other schools while the district was unaccredited, which has hamstrung efforts to increase teacher pay. As a result, about a quarter of the district’s staff turns over every year.

“We’ve had to say some things here that are not overly positive about the district, and yet the contributions of the board that is leading that district and (Superintendent Scott) Spurgeon’s efforts certainly should be acknowledged, as should be the staff and leadership in the buildings,” Neale said.

The north St. Louis County district lost its full accreditation in 2005. The state school board appointed a special administrative board in 2010.

The district moved from unaccredited up to provisional accreditation three years ago. It has scored in the full accreditation range in the annual performance process but that was due in part to hold-harmless provisions that blocked the district from losing points.

Several board members agreed that more needs to be done to support districts with low-income, highly mobile populations. They didn’t end up voting on Riverview Gardens’ petition for full accreditation, which procedurally has the same effect of keeping the district provisionally accredited but is a softer denial.

Michael Jones, who represents St. Louis on the state board, talked about attending segregated schools growing up.

“You presumed if you were a black team playing a white team, you were not going to get any calls from the referee ... I would not take exception to the recommendation, but I think we need to have a really more honest conversation about what it means to be a black child in the state of Missouri,” Jones said.

Trying to regain accreditation and shed the financial burden and stigma associated with the label can put tremendous pressure on already overburdened urban districts.

Two former Riverview Gardens principals sued the school district in October 2017, alleging they lost their jobs because they refused to comply with pressure to pad their school’s attendance numbers. A district investigation says it found no evidence of tampering.

Riverview Gardens and nearby Normandy are the only two school districts in the St. Louis area that are not fully accredited and both are under state control. St. Louis Public Schools will transition back to local control next month.

Elle Moxley covers education for KCUR. Follow her on Twitter: @ellemoxley

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @rpatrickdelaney

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org

Ryan was an education reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.