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Missouri gets $54 million for school turnarounds

By Rachel Lippmann

St. Louis – The state of Missouri has received $54 million from the federal stimulus package to help districts turn around their lowest-performing schools.

The competitive bids will fund interventions into schools that are in the bottom 5 percent academically, or have graduation rates below 60 percent. But districts have to agree to one of four draconian options, including firing the principal and most of the staff, closing the school and reopening it as a charter school, closing the school and sending students elsewhere, or a model that focuses on teacher education and curriculum changes.

The state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education will award the bids, and will be looking for districts that have leaders in place willing to make those changes, said spokesman Jim Morris.

"Beyond what appears on paper to be a credible plan, probably evidence of action and steps that the district either has already taken or is prepared to take," he said.

Morris said schools have complained about a lack of support for past turnaround attempts.

"We might have labeled a school district as low-performing and complained to school district officials that they need to do something. We don't bring anything to the party in terms of any additional resources that can help them," he said.

A spokesman for the St. Louis Public Schools says the district plans to apply for the extra funding. There are 22 SLPS schools eligible for the interventions.