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State School Board Expands Normandy's Governing Board After Complaints

Mike Jones, a former member of the Missouri State Board of Education, at a 2018 meeting.
File photo / Ryan Delaney
St. Louis Public Radio
Mike Jones is one of two new members who will join an expanded state-appointed board overseeing Normandy's school district. He previously served on the state school board.

The Normandy school district’s state-appointed governing board gained two more members Thursday as the state school board tried to appease concerns in the community over the struggling district’s leadership.

In a brief special meeting of the Missouri State Board of Education, board members approved expanding Normandy’s governing board, known formally as the Joint-Executive Governing Board, from five members to seven.

Mike Jones, a former state board member, will soon join Normandy’s board along with William Humphrey, who served on Normandy’s school board as an elected member before the state takeover.

Pamela Westbrooks-Hodge, a state board member who graduated from Normandy and served on Normandy’s board previously, said the decision “is a bright spot in Normandy’s longer road to recovery.”

Normandy’s teachers union and elected officials have grown increasingly upset this spring with the district’s leadership. The recently hired superintendent lacks some of the credentials for the job and also has previously worked for a charter school network.

That put 24:1, an organization made up of municipal leaders within the school district, on edge. The group had strongly opposed the planned opening of a charter school in the district’s boundaries. It also lobbied against two bond measures — and defeated one — for Normandy schools on the April ballot.

Beverly Hills Mayor Brian Jackson, who is part of 24:1, accused the board and superintendent of operating in a “clandestine way.” The teachers union said Superintendent Marcus Robinson’s lack of credentials is “unacceptable.”

In an interview following the meeting, Jones said it would be “presumptuous for me to make any really definitive judgments” regarding Robinson’s future with the district, adding he’s focused on improving the educational outcomes for the district.

Robinson declined to comment through a district spokesperson.

Normandy has struggled to meet state standards since the mid-1990s and lost accreditation in 2012. The state took over governance in 2014 by dissolving the elected board and replacing it with five appointed members.

Normandy regained provisional accreditation in 2017, but its academics have slipped since then. Only 16% of third graders were reading on grade level in 2019, and the attendance rate last school year was 69%.

“If you're Black in America, you will always be playing with two strikes against you,” Jones said about the predominantly Black and low-income district’s long struggles. “And you can't use that as an excuse. You just got to learn how to be a great two-strike hitter.”

The state school board held the special meeting following a lengthy discussion at its regular meeting earlier in the month. Board members brought up the idea of transitioning Normandy back to local control, but no plan was laid out.

Riverview Gardens, near the Normandy district in north St. Louis County, is also under a state-appointed board. Education Commissioner Margie Vandeven said the change in Normandy’s oversight raises questions about Riverview Gardens that the department will address in the near future.

The state school board returned control of St. Louis Public Schools to a locally elected board in 2019 after 12 years of control. The transition process took several years.

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @rpatrickdelaney

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

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