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An all-girls St. Louis charter school announces closure shortly before start of school

The exterior of a large stone building. Above its door is a red banner reading "Hawthorn Leadership School for Girls."
Tristen Rouse
St. Louis Public Radio
Hawthorn Leadership School for Girls in June in the Kingsway West neighborhood. The charter school announced its closure on Tuesday, shortly before the start of a new school year.

Updated at 5 p.m. Aug. 15 with reaction to the announcement

An all-girls charter school in St. Louis announced Tuesday it is immediately closing, just one week before students were supposed to start the upcoming school year.

Hawthorn Leadership School for Girls had about 120 students enrolled two years ago, according to the state. Now families and staff are looking for new schools as many districts start within days.

Kierra Williams’ daughter is going into eighth grade and was supposed to do so at Hawthorn.

“I'm just a little frustrated right now, a little sad for my baby, and I have to figure something out because school starts next week, and I do not want her to be behind at all,” Williams said.

The school opened in 2015 and claims to be the first all-girls public school in Missouri. It had students in grades 6-12 and graduated its first class in 2021. The school is located on North Kingshighway.

In a letter to families, the school’s board chair and head of school said Hawthorn had seen a recent drop in enrollment that created program and budget constraints.

“While we have operated well as a small school, the prohibitive per-student cost of providing a quality educational program for our small student body has led us to this extremely difficult decision,” the school leaders wrote.

The letter blamed the enrollment drop on St. Louis’ overall population decline and the ongoing effects of the pandemic.

On Tuesday, bright yellow signs encouraging students to enroll were still decorating the school’s lawn; as recently as four days ago, the school was calling for new students to enroll on social media. Teachers were already back at school to prepare for the year, said the school’s Facebook page.

A yellow sign advertising Hawthorn Leadership School for Girls as "The first and only all girl public school in the region - enrolling now for 6th-9th grade."
Tristen Rouse
St. Louis Public Radio
A sign advertising enrollment is still up on Tuesday outside the Hawthorn Leadership School for Girls.

In response to a request for an interview, a school official told St. Louis Public Radio: “We are working furiously to support our staff and students. This is our priority at the moment.”

The school said in the letter that it will help families find “quality school placements” in the coming weeks. It also said it would work with staff members as they transition to new positions for the upcoming school year.

Washington University was the school’s sponsor. In a written statement, a university spokesperson said: “We support the difficult decision made by the Hawthorn Leadership School for Girls Board of Trustees to close the school. We know this action was not taken lightly or without great consideration for the impact the closure will have on Hawthorn students, families and staff.”

Kate Grumke covers the environment, climate and agriculture for St. Louis Public Radio and Harvest Public Media.