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Why Not Welcome Students From Failing Local Districts?

If host schools get money from the failing districts, the students want a good education and class sizes can be maintained, what's the hang-up?

The gym at Francis Howell Central High School was filled to standing-room-only at a town hall meeting about upcoming transfer students last week. Photo Credit: Jared Grafman
The gym at Francis Howell Central High School was filled to standing-room-only at a town hall meeting about upcoming transfer students last week. Photo Credit: Jared Grafman
Perhaps no local issue recently has more wide-reaching impact across our region — and is sparking so much heat, without much light — as the issue of transferring students from failing school districts to other, more successful area districts.

The issue is very simple: The Normandy and Riverview Gardens school districts are unaccredited and, essentially, failing their students. The Missouri Supreme Court has ruled that, according to this St. Louis Post-Dispatch article, failing districts must underwrite the cost to send students who request a transfer to superior schools.

Since that ruling, the Post says, almost 1,700 students (about 16 percent) from Normandy and Riverview Gardens have requested transfers.

Patch has been covering public hearings and town hall meetings around the issue at a variety of sites, including the Francis Howell community in St. Charles and, as recently as Thursday, in the Mehlville School District.

As a reader, I'm proud when I see young students from Francis Howell Central High School say they're looking forward to the transfer students arriving.

"We are happy to have these new students at our school," said Eric Lee, senior class president at Francis Howell High, at a contentious town hall meeting last week reported by St. Peters Patch. "We think it will be a good opportunity. We think that, I don't think we can assume Normandy kids are going to be problems."

His classmate, Gavin Galanes, captain of the school's cross country team, added: "Everyone's excited about the new people coming and the opportunities that are going to be provided to them.

At Thursday's meeting in Mehville, Eric Knost, superintendent of the Mehlville School District, assured residents that class sizes would be maintained and the quality of education will be maintained. A decline? "I won't let that happen. There's no reason that would happen," he said.

And there was this statement from Oakville High student Trey Marlette, reported on Mehlville-Oakville Patch, to the Mehlville School Board: “We get new students to the district every year, and the ones that I know don’t have a problem merging with the students here."

Yet there have been some decidedly opposing views expressed in our comments — mostly by people who aren't interested in attaching their name to their views.

"This is being forced down our throats and we do not want it," wrote one reader. "We don't have to accept it. We will fight it until it is stopped. We do not want this for our children or our community."

For the Normandy students, the most popular districts selected for transfers, according to the Post-Dispatch, are: Francis Howell; Ritenour; Clayton; University City; and Ladue. For the Riverview Gardens students, they are: Mehlville; Ferguson-Florissant; Hazelwood; Clayton; and Pattonville. 

Maybe someone can help me understand what it is that is "not wanted for the community."

If the transferred students are transferring because they want to be challenged with a better education than they could get at their home districts....

And the home districts are required to cover the cost of tuition and transportation for the students who are transferring (to the tune of nearly $23 million so far)...

And many student representatives at the host schools are looking forward to the new students working side-by-side with them...

And the administrators at the host schools are committed on the record to maintaining the quality of their education....

...what is the problem? I can only think of one thing. But perhaps there is something I'm missing. I'm eager to hear from those of you who have opinions on this issue.

The deadline for transfer applications is Thursday.
Julie July 28, 2013 at 09:55 AM
Well said Mr. Greenbaum. I too can only thing of one reason why parents would have a problem with this but I think that those which do would never admit to that reason. Rather, they will hide behind the excuses (not in MY community). I have a child who attends school at one of these districts and frankly, I'm looking forward to the opportunity for there to be some more diversity in the school (of course assuming that said promises that class sizes will be maintained). I also have a spouse who works for the district and he has an open mind about the situation as well. He is in the field of education and knows that the priority of schools is to educate each and every student who enters through those doors. He is no less qualified to work with students from an African American household than those from a Caucasian household.
Heather Wobbe Limoges July 28, 2013 at 10:20 AM
Well Mr Greenbaum, you and Julie are WAY off base with your ignorant assumption of racism and that is what keeps it alive. I am a parent in Francis Howell and my first concern is from the idiots who wrote this law and did not think of the consequences of some of the actions. Let me give you my biggest problem. Test scores. Right off the bare the state wants to combine Normandy test scores of 10-30% with FH 80-100%. That would take the overall test scores to 60%. It may look better for the Normandy students, but it diminishes ours. I would have hoped that someone had a brain and would give these kids a chance to learn BEFORE combining ANY scores. Second, safety. If they don't behave and act like responsible kids at Normandy schools and need clear backpacks and metal detectors, is that going to magically change when they get to our school? Third and final, how hard is it to fix their district? They have to pay A LOT of money to any district their kids want to go to, no matter where it is. This is not an attempt to fix the overall problem. This is a band aid on the damn. How do you fix a problem with kids who leave? I doubt either of the failing school districts will be around longer, and that is a shame for those communities as a whole. I went to high school with kids from the city. They were bussed in every day. Some of my closest friends were city kids, but they wanted the better education than what their city schools could provide. There were good kids and bad kids, as there are everywhere and the good ones took full advantage of what they were offered. The parents in any school district named are not fearful out of racism as you hinted at, which is a debate baiting hint, but more of the unknown since we are not getting answers to basic questions about our own kids education and we are the taxpayers in the district. So please, leave the racism card off the table...it's old.
Heather Wobbe Limoges July 28, 2013 at 10:23 AM
Oh...and I posted my full name for you-I am not hiding behind a nick name or anonymous names. I welcome the kids and hope that they take this opportunity and run with it!
Mike T. July 28, 2013 at 10:27 AM
Apart from the apparent "issue" that is brought up (the "elephant" in the room) which is a poor excuse, did anyone else notice that one school district was missing from the list of districts being chosen by students? Parkway. Interesting. Having attended High School in the LAUSD (Los Angeles Unified School District), I can tell you that most of the kids got along, no matter what community they came from. It was no different than any other school. When I went to Parkway, prior to LAUSD, we had the same issues. It doesn't matter where people live, what their family background is, or even what color there skin is, there are good and bad apples in every bunch. Some of the worst offenders in both places were from over-priveleged homes.
Heather Wobbe Limoges July 28, 2013 at 10:34 AM
Agreed Mike-I attended Lafayette and I said the same thing-good and bad everywhere!
Pam Z July 28, 2013 at 12:12 PM
This is all part of the plan to unaccredited all of St. Louis County Schools so it will be much more palatable for residents to accept the St. Louis merger.This is TRUE socialism. Redistribution of education. These ailing districts were offered help to get their standards up but refused. Now these poor children have to spend hours on the bus and will be so far away from the friends they make at school that they won't be able to maintain normal friendships. And how many of these children are going to get up that early every day to attend school? Was this also a consideration that the school district took into account so that they would not have to pay the fee? Either way, shame on the failing schools for not having the leadership to maintain control of their schools classrooms for learning and shame on you for choosing schools that are SO far away that the journey itself should count as some type of discipline. St. Louis is going to be the premier State for the implementation of the UN based Agenda 21. Everyone better take a hard look at the records of the UN leaders and ask themselves "Is this really who we want to follow?" If you are a woman or a minority please check their records. This will NOT be good for you.
Laura July 28, 2013 at 12:17 PM
This is the desegregtion program all over again. The schools receiving these students will flourish and students will learn, although it will be rocky at first during the transition. The financial impact to the underperforming schools will not allow for any improvement and it erodes the surrounding communities. The real issue, parents need to teach children to value education and make it a priority so that all environments offer students a chance at learning. It starts at home. I know there are bad teachers out there, but so much so that a whole district underperforms? I don't buy it. If they spend the whole day parenting when does teaching take place. Send children to school who are respectful and teachable and this wouldn't be an issue.
Eznie July 28, 2013 at 03:40 PM
The students who transfer in are the ones whose parents care about their kids. They won't be that much of a problem in the suburban schools. And if they are, their parents are more likely to do something about it.
Rich Pope July 28, 2013 at 11:53 PM
Google Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. If these children are not getting physiological needs met or if they don't feel safe in their own neighborhoods, it won't matter what school they attend. These needs have to be met before any learning can take place.
Missy July 29, 2013 at 08:28 AM
Kurt, I am a parent at Clayton and grew up the minority in California. I do believe for most this is not a race issue, but truely an education and financial issue for our State. This Law will bankrupt both Riverview Gardens and Normandy School Districts, leaving thousands of students without a classroom. The Law also does not exclude existing Private School students. The State/Distrcit does not currently pay for these students and now will have to find the money to send kids whose parents pay tuition and have never attended a public school before. The scores needed to meet accredidation are getting higher, we have MANY school distrcits already on the ledge, this Law is much bigger than the 1200 students we read about today. The Law must change and Education Reform discussed separately for MO. It truely will not only banckrupt these districts, but possibly our State. This is my anwser to your question.
Liz July 29, 2013 at 09:32 AM
Hey Kurt, thanks for picking one negative comment to highlight and allow that person to speak for the whole community! Geez. While there are always going to be people who are opposed to any change, the majority of what I've heard and read from my community members is on the neutral or positive side. As Trey and other students have said since this was announced, "it's no big deal." Dr. Knost has been on top of enrollment data and space in the buildings from the point of the announcement. Mehlville teachers are committed to all students in their building. Mehlville administrators work hard to assure that teachers are supported and have access to the resources they need to meet the needs of the students. That said, Riverview kids may notice a distinct reduction in the availability of instructional technology, text books, and more because these are cuts that Mehlville has made or improvements that have been postponed for more than a decade as the community refuses to support public education with operating tax increases and the state continues to not fully fund public schools. Let's not forget that there are going to be more than 5000 kids left behind in Riverview Gardens. Those kids and families have been marginalized in this whole thing.
michelle July 29, 2013 at 09:44 AM
I really fail to see what the problem is or how this is any different than when I went to Ritenour in the 80's and 90's and the city kids were bussed in. I had no problems with it back then or now. People just need to grow up! Some of my best friends who stuck up for me the most were from the city!
Julie July 29, 2013 at 10:12 AM
Heather, judging any group who hale from a specific area which is predominately of a certain race and socio-economic status is, at the very least, serious prejudice. This article wasn't written with the intentions of dissecting the law behind the transfer of students, it was written to draw attention to the strong opposition received by a few parents in the districts receiving these kids. Ignorant comments about how a minority number of student's test scores (I know in Mehlville's case that's 150 Riverview students) plus the majority of student's test scores (not quite sure of the thousands of students currently enrolled in their district) equals the average of the two. Really?? How did you figure your math? You certainly can say that you aren't racist but it's the off base statements such as these which seem to me to point to some serious prejudice. You know, "not in MY community..."
Scott Simon July 29, 2013 at 11:15 AM
So when are we going to see some move allowing for these student movers to have the choice of private schools? After all, isn't this about getting the best education possible?
Heather Wobbe Limoges July 29, 2013 at 11:26 AM
Julie-I never said NOT IN MY COMMUNITY, so please go back and see who did. The numbers I got, were given to us at the town hall meeting. I have to trust that the administrators and faculty who are working with this every day know more than any person posting on this forum. The article was written to bait people into a racial discussion. I hope that you come back and post once you figure out "not in MY community" and realize you are incorrect in accusing myself of being racist. If that is not the way you meant it to sound, it came across as such.
Kurt Greenbaum July 29, 2013 at 05:43 PM
Thanks for your comments, everyone, and Liz, I'm sorry you felt I cherry picked. I really wasn't. I picked a comment I felt was representative of others I'd seen both on Patch and on other sites, as well as the sentiments expressed in news articles by some residents at recent hearings. I couldn't be more happy to hear the sentiments you expressed in your comments. Thank you.
Elizabeth E. July 30, 2013 at 10:05 AM
My concern with this issue is not about the students of this district but of the students of Riverview. Yes, they will receive a better education and that’s great. But there are other districts closer to where they live that can provide just as good of an education and the students won’t have to spend an hour and a half on the bus one way. Unless there will be additional bussing, how will these students be able to stay after school and participate in extracurricular activities? That involvement is almost as important as the level of education when it comes to college applications. In addition, by combining the hours spent at school, after school (if they can get a ride home) and traveling, will high schoolers have any time/energy to hold a part-time job? I understand some people do not think a job is necessary at that age but the job market has changed drastically in the last 5 years and the earlier one has experience, the better. As stated in earlier articles on Patch, Mehlville has the 2nd cheapest tuition in the county. Mehlville is also a large district - 11,000 students. Are there no other districts in the (Mehlville) area with equal education level and smaller class size? Even the Senator representing the RG area was surprised that RG did not “…choose one of the many quality schools in the North St. Louis County area…” I do not mind these students coming to Mehlville, however I don’t think it is the best thing for them and I don’t think this decision was made in the best interest of the students.
John Dough July 30, 2013 at 03:00 PM
It's an open admission by the failing school districts that they are unable to educate the children placed in their charge. Instead of solving the problem the transfer merely accelerates it. Loss of 22 % of their operating revenue throws gasoline on the flames. The remaining children are left with a reduced amount of funds to achieve any tangible improvement. If the best and the brightest children leave what happens to the ones left behind? The parents should be outraged.
Nichole Heine July 30, 2013 at 08:38 PM
I believe that the failing school districts need to figure out how to fix their accreditation and fast so that they can provide the best education to all of their students. The kids who are left behind and do not transfer to another district will receive what? A diploma that is not worth anything to a college? This is a Band-Aid and I do not think that this article was written very well to really get to the bottom of the issue here. Let's fix the districts in St. Louis...let's get "our" children the best educations so that they can succeed. Don't just pick and choose where some kids can go while commuting hours a day, and some can't. I would be happier if we were given more information on what is being done to fix the failing districts...does anyone know??
Tonia Rusk July 30, 2013 at 10:15 PM
So when Francis Howell and Mehlville lose their accreditation, where will those students transfer to?
Rich Pope July 30, 2013 at 11:30 PM
A handful of kids are not going to cause these districts to lose their accreditation. Grow up for crying out loud.
ray faulkner July 31, 2013 at 04:28 AM
A few bad apples can spoil the barrel, these "kids" have seen and lived through things we never will. Violent fights daily, guns in the school, rape, and extortion. I would love to think that only good kids will be transferring, but even they have been effected by the negative stimulus to always be on the defensive. Their posturing and behavior even on the best of days will seem intimidating to students and staff that have not lived as they have.
Rich Marshal July 31, 2013 at 05:39 PM
Show me one failing district whose kids are bused to a another school where that district improved. We've been busing kids for 4 decades to what avail? Look at the data at any of the receiving schools and you will see large differences in test scores by race. Nothing about this situation will change that. Maybe these kids should choose to attend the University City school district. After all, it's much closer and their good liberals are color-blind. Oops, the UC school district is rated only slightly better than Normandy and RG. I wonder why a city that is 50% white has a high school that is 90% black. I can think of only one reason.
heidi August 17, 2013 at 12:35 PM
The district began by saying it could accommodate 100 students from Riverview & Normandy. Then it changed that number to 175. Next we were going to take 152, but still only had room for 175 students. Now we’re taking 186? Is this because of the strong-arming of the ACLU? NAACP? What sort of transparency is this when the numbers keep magical changing before our eyes? What sort of a fix is this, Kurt? At the end of your article you stated "What is the problem? I can think of only one thing." What were you trying to insinuate, Kurt? More of that liberal racism card we hear bellowed at every turn?

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