St. Louis may seek help for schools

ST. LOUIS (AP) — St. Louis may follow the lead of urban school districts in places such as Chicago, Philadelphia and New York and turn over the reins of the city’s most troubled schools to outside groups.

Superintendent Kelvin Adams proposed Thursday night that if any of the district’s 18 lowest-performing schools fails to meet specified targets next school year, nonprofit entities would be hired to run them in 2015-16. Adams made the proposal to the Special Administrative Board that oversees the district, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

The schools would operate independently but still belong to the district. The operator — a charter school, a turnaround firm, even an educator — would hire staff and set the curriculum, but the district would remain accountable for test scores and enrollment.

“We want to be careful in what we say about doing this,” Adams told the newspaper. “We don’t want to leave the impression that we’re giving away schools.”

The schools proposal was part of the 2014-15 budget and transformation plan that Adams and his staff presented to the board. It also provides for more intense tutoring and support for students in struggling schools.

Since fall, Adams has been directly supervising the worst-performing of the district’s 67 schools. He wants to shift $6.4 million to those schools next year to cover the cost of more tutoring, as well as to hire teachers with additional training in reading instruction, reading and math specialists, and more social workers and counselors.

Adams said shifting more resources to those schools would likely eliminate excuses for their failure. If that that doesn’t work, outside operators would be contracted.

Outside vendors often operate the lowest-achieving schools in urban districts, said Michael Casserly, executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools, which is analyzing how well the strategy works.

“Preliminary evidence suggests sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t,” Casserly said.

Katherine Wessling, vice president of the elected St. Louis School Board that lost most of its power when the state began supervising the district’s schools several years ago, said she needs to learn more about who the outside entities might be before deciding whether to support Adams’ proposal.

“My initial response was, it sounds as if he’s admitting he can’t do the job with those schools,” she said. “If they do that, they need to be prepared and have an option for kids who don’t want to be in an experimental situation.”

The proposed $295.9 million budget is about $1 million less than this year’s budget, and assumes a slight dip in enrollment.

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