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St. Louis Public Schools Plans 11 School Closures To Consolidate Resources

Students leave Dunbar Elementary School in the JeffVanderLou neighborhood. The school has space for 522 students but enrolled just 155 in September. Jan. 9, 2019.
File Photo / Ryan Delaney
St. Louis Public Radio
Students leave Dunbar Elementary School in the JeffVanderLou neighborhood in January 2019 when its closure was most recently considered. The school has space for 522 students but enrolled just 158 at the start of the 2019-2020 school year.

Community activists and nostalgic alumni are pushing back against closing more than 10 St. Louis Public Schools buildings throughout the city.

The district held a virtual town hall Tuesday night to get feedback on a consolidation proposal Superintendent Kelvin Adams shared last week. Adams contends the process is about the future.

“We really should be shifting the conversation from closing schools to providing greater services for our students,” Adams said.

The district started work in February to solicit community feedback on the future of the district. It was interrupted by the pandemic and the plan’s release delayed. After its release last week, it could be approved by the school board as soon as next week.

The district has been closing buildings every few years but has been unable to keep up with a persistently shrinking student population. SLPS educated more than 115,000 children 50 years ago. This year, its K-12 population fell below 20,000.

The district still has an outsized footprint for the number of children it educates. Most of its 68 buildings are less than half full, and several schools have fewer than 200 students enrolled.

Here are the schools affected:

  • Clay Elementary
  • Dunbar Elementary
  • Farragut Elementary
  • Ford Elementary
  • Hickey Elementary
  • Monroe Elementary
  • Fanning Middle
  • Carnahan High
  • Cleveland NJROTC High
  • Northwest High
  • Sumner High

Read more: More School Closures Coming For Consistently Shrinking St. Louis Public Schools

Several of the buildings on the list, including Dunbar, Farragut, Northwest and Sumner, have staved off closure before. Closing a school carries symbolism. They’re seen as anchors and points of neighborhood pride; their closure a possible deathblow to struggling neighborhoods.

Sumner’s potential closure may sting the most. The school opened in 1875 as the first high school for African Americans west of the Mississippi. It was a landmark in the historically Black neighborhood of The Ville. The school once housed more than 1,000 students and was a football power in the 1970s and 80s. Today, it has 200 students, and its football program folded last year.

A group of neighbors and alumni have also been fighting for several years to save Dunbar Elementary in the JeffVanderLou neighborhood. Jataun Hampton grew up in JeffVanderLou and attended Dunbar. She’s now a community organizer with WEPOWER.

“As a parent, my children don’t have an opportunity to attend a neighborhood school,” she said.

Dozens of people submitted written comments during the virtual town hall, asking about why the schools were selected and what will happen to the buildings once they’re vacated.

The closures will impact 2,200 students and 299 teachers and staff, according to the district. Adams said the district will be able to accommodate a “high, high” number of those faculty without having to cut jobs.

District administrators used several measures to determine which schools to shutter, including current and predicted enrollment, academic performance, building condition and neighborhood impact. Several closed SLPS schools sit vacant around the city. The district has 18 empty buildings for sale on its surplus list. The district said it will work with community groups and city officials to try to repurpose the soon-to-close schools.

Carnahan High School on South Broadway will be converted back to a middle school. Cleveland’s high school program shares the old Southwest High School at Kingshighway and Arsenal with the Central Visual and Performing Arts program and is not slated to move. The naval training academy housed at Cleveland could be relocated, Adams said.

Educating students in under-utilized buildings drives up per-pupil costs. Adams argued that reducing overhead facilities costs could allow the district to hire more nurses and social workers, and improve security. The schools that remain open, Adams said, could offer more advanced courses and extracurriculars.

Adams has also proposed creating a permanent K-12 virtual school offering and hiring reading specialists at elementary schools. At the high school level, all high school seniors will be offered a paid internship.

“This is not just dropped on the community today, it’s a long-term conversation that’s taken place. It is now time for us to make some decisions relative to what we do with schools,” Adams said.

The school board is expected to hold a special meeting Dec. 15 and to vote on the consolidation plan. Closures would go into effect in the fall of 2021.

“There are parents on this board and we don’t take this decision lightly,” said board President Dorothy Rohde-Collins. “We know how big of a part school is in your child’s life and in your family’s life.”

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @rpatrickdelaney

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