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Riverview Gardens will come under state control

By Rachel Lippmann, St. Louis Public Radio

St. Louis – The state Board of Education will move on Thursday to take over another St. Louis-area school district.

Riverview Gardens, in North County, lost its accreditation in June 2007, mostly for poor academic performance. Under state law, the district had two school years to regain its accreditation. But students are still not meeting state academic standards, though the district has sporadically met attendance and high school graduation requirements.

"There is significant work to be done," state education commissioner Chris Nicastro told an attentive crowd at Riverview Gardens High School Tuesday night. "I think we have to put out there a fact that the kids can and will achieve at high levels if we prepare them well and if they have the resources to be successful." That, she said, will be the job of the three-person special administrative board the state will appoint on Thursday.

The decision will strip the district's seven-person elected board of its authority, and terminate all existing contracts. That, said elected board president Tommie Pierson, Sr., is a good thing.

"Parts of the house need to be cleaned," he said. "When you lost your accreditation, that means somebody's not doing what they should be doing." Nicastro said she urged the appointed board members, who will be announced Thursday, to keep the elected board in an advisory role.

The same year the district lost its accreditation, county prosecutors charged its previous superintendent, Henry Williams, with stealing more than $100,000. The theft, Riverview Gardens National Education Association president Rich Thies said, led to the ongoing academic problems. The situation deserved more consideration from the state, he said.

"Without the finances, there's a lot of resources and things that have been deprived," Thies said. "Teacher morale has been down because of the lack of benefits and raises and things that should have been going on."

Williams pleaded guilty to the theft in 2009 and is paying restitution. Nicastro said state law left officials no other choice.

Riverview Gardens will be the third district in the St. Louis area to come under control of a state-appointed board. The Wellston school district will close at the end of this year after failing to improve, and the St. Louis Public Schools will be under state control for another three years. Nicastro said the board has no choice but to turn the district around.

Nicastro was Riverview Gardens' superintendent before Williams. A piece of her heart remains at the district, she said.