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For 14 years, Kelvin Adams led St. Louis Public Schools. He’s retiring with mixed feelings

Dr. Kelvin Adams, St. Louis Public Schools superintendent
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
Kelvin Adams, St. Louis Public Schools superintendent, in July outside Herzog Elementary School

After leading St. Louis Public Schools for 14 years, Superintendent Kelvin Adams will retire at the end of December.

Adams has led the district through major changes during that time. St. Louis Public Schools became fully accredited, returned to a locally elected school board and passed two major bond measures.

On Friday’s St. Louis on the Air, Adams said he is proudest of his work to stabilize the district’s finances. “When I started, the district had a $60 million deficit,” he said. Today, “the district [is] carrying about a $135 million surplus.”

He is also satisfied with his ability to boost and stabilize leadership throughout the district. “We have principals who have been in place for a number of years now,” he said. “And systems are in place, so that people know — whether they like it or not — how things work.”

Adams added that he is leaving some business unfinished. He wishes the district had been able to move the needle more academically.

“But there's some real challenges around supporting kids in this community in terms of the social systems that need to be there to support them,” he said.

“While we've not done as well as we want to have done, the instability in our community makes it hard to have a trajectory that moves strictly up,” Adams said. “Right now we have about 300 teaching vacancies, which makes it very difficult to stabilize the academic achievement results that we want to have.”

Kelvin Adams joins 'St. Louis on the Air'

He added that 30% to 35% of the district’s population is transient, which poses challenges. “I think it has to be a community effort; we can't do it in isolation,” Adams said, adding that community support for jobs and housing is key.

Nicole Williams, Adams’ chief of staff, will take over as St. Louis Public Schools superintendent on Jan. 1 and lead the district until a permanent replacement is found.

The district's board of education has hired a firm to conduct a nationwide search for a permanent replacement. They say the search is on track to have a permanent superintendent in place by the beginning of the 2023-24 school year.

Adams said he plans to stay in St. Louis, and he said it won’t be too long before he’s again working on important issues.

“I am deeply committed to this city, its community and the young people in it,” he said. “I would suspect that in short order, people will see me in spaces supporting kids again, just not necessarily in a traditional school setting.”

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is produced by Miya Norfleet, Emily Woodbury, Danny Wicentowski, Elaine Cha and Alex Heuer. Avery Rogers is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr. Send questions and comments about this story to talk@stlpr.org.

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Emily is the senior producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.