St. Louis Schools Watch March 13, 2015 ------------------------------------------------------------ Board of Education Candidate Surveys ------------------------------------------------------------ There will be an election to fill two seats on the Board of Education on Tuesday, April 7. The two seats are currently held by David Jackson and Katherine (Katie) Wessling. Both incumbents are running for re-election. Four other candidates have filed to run as well so there will be 6 names on the ballot competing for the 2 seats. They are, in the order in which they filed: Natalie Vowell, Thomas Oldenburg, David Jackson, Katherine Wessling, Charli Cooksey and Joey Hollins. Voters can vote for 2 of the 6 candidates. Whenever there is a contested election, The Watch attempts to contact all of the candidates and provide them with an opportunity to answer a set of questions which are then disseminated to our readers. The surveys are provided in the order in which they were returned to the Watch. So far only 4 of the candidates have responded, Vowell, Jackson, Wessling and Cooksey in that order. If Hollins and Oldenburg respond before the election, their surveys will be sent in a subsequent message. The candidates responses are not edited. The Watch has changed editing websites due to delivery issues which developed last summer. We are still learning how to use MailChimp. Please bear with us during the transition. Susan Turk, Editor
David Jackson Please supply a brief autobiography. Mr. Jackson was elected to the Board of Education in April of 2007. Mr. Jackson has been a resident of the City of St. Louis for over fifty (50) years. He was educated in the St. Louis Public School system and graduated from Central High School in 1976. Four of his five children have graduated from the St. Louis Public Schools. Currently he has a son attending an alternative high school. Mr. Jackson is a veteran of the United States Air Force and was honorably discharged in 1983. He holds Bachelors of Science Degrees in Business Administration and Criminal Justice from St. Louis University. Mr. Jackson also received an Associate of Arts Degree in Accounting from Sanford Brown Business College. Mr. Jackson is a certified Property Manager and Housing Occupancy Specialist by the National Center for Housing Management. He is certified as a First Responder by the American Red Cross in First Aid and CPR. Mr. Jackson is President of D.L.J. Construction Services, LLC, a firm which specializes in general construction, subcontracting, construction management and administration, minority and women owned businesses utilization and HUD Section 3 development and implementation, as well as, workforce diversity. Mr. Jackson has successfully completed and has been involved in over $370 million dollars in construction projects, both commercial and residential. Some of his major projects include; the Residences at Murphy Park located at 20th and Cass Avenues and the King Louis Square Apartments at the old Darst-Webbe Housing Complex, as well as, the Jazz @ Walter Circle Senior Housing Development, in East St. louis Illinois. He has been involved with over twenty high rise rehabilitated converted office buildings to loft and apartment facilities in downtown St. Louis on Washington Avenue. The SLPS is currently governed by an appointed board. The elected board has limited responsibilities. While possible, given the national trend of removing urban school districts from governance by elected school boards, it is unlikely the elected board will return to power during the term for which you are running. Why, then, are you running? If you believe the elected board will return to power, please give reasons. I have been a member of the Board of Education since 2007 and I ran then as I am running to ensure the children of the St. Louis Public School District receive a quality education. I also know and believe whole-heartily the St. Louis Public School District will be under the local governance of the elected board of education when the Transitional School District ends on June 30, 2016. To confirm this in 2013 when the State Board of Education accepted the recommendation of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), they instructed DESE to return to the State Board prior to June 30, 2016 with a transition plan back to local governance. This requested was insisted upon by four of the members of the State Board, subsequently directed by the President of the State Board. What is your understanding of the role of a board member? Traditionally, school board members, sets and ensures school policy and supervises its only employee, the Superintendent. What do you want to accomplish as a board member? Ensure the children of the St. Louis Public Schools receive a quality education. Are you the parent of children who currently attend or graduated from the SLPS? Currently I have one son attending an alternative high school in the district. His four other siblings all have graduated from the SLPS. Did you attend and/or graduate from the SLPS? Yes, I graduated from Central High School in 1976. Have you ever worked for the SLPS or are you related to a current or former employee? No, I have never been an employee of the SLPS. I do have a third cousin who works in the Safety and Security Department. If you are not an SLPS parent, graduate, former employee or relation of one, do you have any other connection with the SLPS? N/A What are your thoughts about the SAB which governs the district? Nothing in particular, they were appointed, seated and have been in governance since 2007 and their term is long overdue and has been non-effective in different points. What is your understanding of the effect of charter schools on the SLPS? Devastating. They are very negative on the financial stability of the SLPS. Should more charter schools open in the city? No. I have been talking and working with several City Alderman on introducing a “Moratorium” on the opening of new Charter Schools. This dialog is continuing with concentration being on the State Legislature and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education developing policies and mandates for Charter Schools in comparison with public schools. Extensive marketing of charter schools and biased reporting in the media favoring charter schools continue to depress SLPS enrollment. Do you have any ideas to improve public confidence in SLPS and improve enrollment? Yes, as the current President of the elected Board of Education we have developed a strategic plan to do just this, provide parents with a clear understanding of what we expect from the administration to ensure all children receive a quality education and a plan to educate current and future parents on the successes of the SLPS and educating parents of the real story of how Charter Schools give false hope to parents of a better educational system. What are your thoughts regarding the magnet schools? I personally, believe in the magnet school programs. The elected board of education has always been committed to work toward all SLPS being Magnet. The SLPS is provisionally accredited. New tougher MAP standards may cause the SLPS to lose accreditation. What will you do to prevent the SLPS from losing accreditation? I really can’t answer this question at this time, due to test scores will come out in July/August of this year and the determination of accreditation will be announced at that time and currently the elected board in not in governance of the district. What ideas do you have to help students learn? A good curriculum matched to the student’s level of understanding and ability. What do you think about the MAP tests and standardized tests in general? Both are in question now throughout the United States. It takes a great understanding of how MAP testing and standardized tests are implemented. How they match each other and the student. Approximately 70% of SLPS high school graduates who enroll in college must take remedial courses. What policies would you promote to lower this statistic? This policy must be one agreed upon as a board and a board who has investigated the Administration’s recommendations and who has been provided with proven results and best practices. In 2014, as part of his transformation plan, SLPS Supt. Kelvin Adams recommended outsourcing management of low performing schools. He has not yet implemented this, but what do you think about the idea? I do not support outsourcing management of any school within the District. Is it important that SLPS parents be represented on the school board? I think SLPS parents are represented on the school board by the members elected by the people in general. If those one or more of those members just happen to be parents, I think its an asset for the board to have that parent on the board who can relate to issues within a particular school, which can be reflected throughout the district. They bring a different, relevant and personal perspective to the board. Natalie Vowell Please supply a brief autobiography. Experienced in a variety of industries, spanning everything from bakery manager to post-secondary educational support technician to volunteer citizens' lobbyist, my passion has always been to help others gain access to the knowledge and resources they seek. I currently work with several great local organizations which place value on environment, technology education, and the arts. I studied computer engineering and music theory at the University of Arkansas. To answer “the St. Louis question”, I briefly attended Parkway South High School in West County, but I’ve been a proud Cherokee Street/City resident since 2010. The SLPS is currently governed by an appointed board. The elected board has limited responsibilities. While possible, given the national trend of removing urban school districts from governance by elected school boards, it is unlikely the elected board will return to power during the term for which you are running. Why, then, are you running? If you believe the elected board will return to power, please give reasons. Local control and a strong community voice from the front lines is what parents in the district will get from elected school board members. Parents should be given full, rightful participation in the democratic process by electing school board members who share their own values, and are enabled to enact these values through policy. While it is my hope that St. Louis citizens are once again given a direct voice in the most important matter of educating our youth, I am excited to get as hands-on as the position (in its limited capacity) allows. What is your understanding of the role of a board member? With its somewhat restricted autonomy, I would compare the Board of Education, in its present state, to the board of directors for a non-profit or charity organization. I see the current role of elected Board of Education members as most closely resembling that of an advisory board member versus a voting board member. That is, a person who brings valuable knowledge, experience, guidance, and volunteer time to the table without having a direct vote in enacting policy. What do you want to accomplish as a board member? As a board member, I will bring the same passion, tireless energy, and innovation I have brought to any other board on which I have served. I would like to enable our teachers to implement more varied approaches to education for students who may lack structure at home and stimulation in day-to-day school tasks. Are you the parent of children who currently attend or graduated from the SLPS? Did you attend and/or graduate from the SLPS? Have you ever worked for the SLPS or are you related to a current or former employee? If you are not an SLPS parent, graduate, former employee or relation of one, do you have any other connection with the SLPS? No. I am recently married, and planning a family. My husband and I are actively dedicated to our lifelong mission of improving St. Louis. I intend to have a future relationship with SLPS, as a parent, by sending my children to a St. Louis public school. What are your thoughts about the SAB which governs the district? Three people appointed to best determine the type and quality of education St. Louis students receive is a gross underrepresentation of children and parents of the City. I believe this may give rise to the demands of special interests over the needs of nearly 24,000 students. What is your understanding of the effect of charter schools on the SLPS? When our public schools’ accreditation is based on “performance”, it must be emphasized that over half of students attending St. Louis public schools are living below the poverty line. When a child lacks basic needs and infrastructure at home, he or she is more likely “underperform” in school. According to data released by the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, 2014 MAP Index scores for Charter Schools across St. Louis were compared to MAP index scores for the St. Louis City Public Schools Average, and the Statewide Average. A PDF of the data can be found here: A cursory look at 2014 data released by DESE on MAP Index scores for St. Louis Charter Schools as compared as to St. Louis City Public Schools’ average performance, could suggests that on average, nearly all of the charter school students in St. Louis are outperforming their SLPS peers on the MAP tests in English Language Arts, Mathematics, and Science. Only students attending City Garden Montessori are also outperforming the state average in all three subject areas. However, it should be noted that City Garden Montessori serves a low rate (41%) of students living below the poverty line, as measured by the percentage of students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch – (FRL). Similarly, Gateway Science Academy, with 46.9% FRL (which is low relative to the SLCPS 88.4% FRL Rate in 2014) is also one of the top performing charter schools in the city. However, a large number of charter schools in St. Louis serve high FRL populations. In fact, 7 of the 14 St. Louis charter schools serve a student body that has an equal to, or higher FRL percentage than the SLPS average of 88.4%. For example, KIPP St. Louis, with a student body that is 94% FRL, is outperforming the City public schools in ELA, Math, and Science, and is nearly on pace with the state average. KIPP Inspire, SLCPS, and Statewide Demographic Characteristics, 2014 KIPP Inspire (AKA: KIPP St. Louis) is “beating the odds” with a high-poverty, high-minority enrollment similar to that in the SLPS. Both KIPP Inspire and the SLPS have a student body that is primarily African American and living below the poverty line. (Similar results can be seen across the nation where KIPP schools are located. There are currently 162 KIPP Schools in 20 states and the District of Columbia serving roughly 59,000 students of whom about 88% qualify for the federal free and reduced-price lunch, and 95% are African American. Nationally, more than 93% of KIPP middle school students have graduated high school, and more than 82% of KIPP alumni have gone on to college.) Many studies have confirmed that minority students and those students living in poverty face additional barriers to their education than those students who do not have these demographic characteristics. Should more charter schools open in the city? Low-income families deserve the same chance at success as students from more affluent economic backgrounds. We must make certain that all charter schools are serving all of our students, not just the children who are statistically more likely to “produce numbers that look good on paper". Only charter schools which adopt the “No Excuses” (no “creaming”) model, such as that of the KIPP schools (as mentioned above), should be welcome in St. Louis. Extensive marketing of charter schools and biased reporting in the media favoring charter schools continue to depress SLPS enrollment. Do you have any ideas to improve public confidence in SLPS and improve enrollment? St. Louis has a tragic history of devouring its own population, particularly those citizens who are poor and/or black. In 1970, at a population of nearly 1 million people, SLPS had over 110,000 students enrolled. In 1971, the Land Reutilization Authority was implemented, which gave the City the right to auction off (or seize) our citizens’ homes for a mere 3 years of unpaid property taxes. Particularly in North St. Louis, properties are assessed and taxed at a grossly disproportionately high rate. When property taxes, a portion of which are allocated to funding our schools, become “uncollectable debt”, the City forces residents from their homes, which depletes current and potential new revenue streams for neighborhood public schools. Today, our population has dwindled to 318,000, and SLPS enrollment is around 24,000. Our City sits on approximately 10,000 vacant, boarded-up homes and businesses falling into unsalvageable disrepair—as well as two dozen abandoned buildings which once served as educational facilities. Adjusting property taxes to fairer rates may not collect all of the money the City wishes, but it’s certainly a start to ameliorating costly “upkeep” of City-owned buildings, an annual cost which could be converted into funding our schools. I believe parents are losing faith in the traditional public schools because they are losing faith in the City itself. Whether or not this is an accurate belief, sometimes perception rings louder than truth. Achievement data suggests that charter school students outperform the traditional SLPS students. Perhaps it is time for SLPS administration to reach out to the charter school community and adopt some of the policies and practices that seem to be most pertinent to charter school success, particularly those charters who are able to serve our impoverished population. After all, any teacher looking up a lesson plan for tomorrow will tell you that "the best ideas are stolen". Why should we think any differently when it comes to improving our schools? What ideas do you have to help students learn? With poorer districts competing for state funding based on average daily headcount, it becomes virtually impossible to achieve the smaller class sizes which give more personalized attention some students require. I believe the best schools have strong leadership and strong educators. A teacher with “grit” and personality, who tries multiple techniques to meet the student where they are, is more effective than any particular curriculum or technology "flavor of the month" (which winds up costing the district an exorbitant amount of money for lackluster results). Increasing the budget and the freedom for educators to experiment with serving alternative learning styles by implementing creative, non-traditional education techniques as the teacher sees fit for his or her class could help enrich the educational experience public school students receive. The adult in the room with 25 kids all day is the one who knows best what they need—not the guy across town, or across the state, looking at spreadsheets and performance charts. MORE local control by the administrators and teachers is needed; these individuals are on the front lines. They know their school and their students better than any district or state bureaucrat. What do you think about the MAP tests and standardized tests in general? Each state has a set of curricular standards that dictates which skills a student in a particular grade should have mastered by the time that student finishes that particular grade. States have also teamed with psychometricians whose job was to take these state standards and develop assessments to effectively measure mastery of the concepts outlined by these standards at each grade level. That said, standardized tests, assuming they achieve the above, are one of the best measures we have for determining whether students have mastered their grade-level concepts. Granted they are not the “end all, be all” measurement of achievement, but if the tests are appropriately aligned with the standards, then we could rest easy in using the data as a metric for student achievement. However, one of the largest problems with many state assessments is that they are only given once a year…and at – or close to – the end of the school year. This is problematic because we have no measure of where the student was performing when they started the school year – a baseline, if you will. In some cases we use the previous end of the school year test results as a proxy for their grade-level achievement, but this is dangerous as research suggests that students endure what is termed “summer learning loss” during the summer three-month vacation. That said, if a 7th grade student barely performed at grade-level on ELA and math tests and, over the summer forgot much of what was learned, they may only be able to perform at a 5th grade level when they start their 8th grade year. However, if they perform at a 7th grade level by the end of their 8th grade year, the teacher may be evaluated negatively because the student is not performing at grade level, when actually, this teacher helped this student learn two grade levels of material in one year. The best defense of this, as unpopular as it will be, is to design an assessment that follows a pre/post test model. For example, if schools administered one form of the MAP within the first two weeks of school, teachers would have a baseline of performance for every student. Additionally, teachers could look at each student’s test results from the beginning of the year to determine strengths and weaknesses. Then, throughout the school year, teachers could deliver tailored instruction to each individual student based on these pre-test scores. At the close of the school year, schools could administer the “post-test” form of the MAP. This will allow administrators, teachers, parents, and students to measure how much the student GREW academically over the course of the academic year. It would eliminate any issues from summer learning loss concerning what impact an individual teacher had on a student’s learning. Additionally, it would be a boon for administrators looking to reward teachers for high growth among their students as the growth could be largely attributed to the particular teacher for a given subject in a given year. Approximately 70% of SLPS high school graduates who enroll in college must take remedial courses. What policies would you promote to lower this statistic? I would adopt President Obama’s notion of free community college…or at least encourage students to complete their remedial work at the community college level before attending a four-year university. Some years ago, my hometown Fayetteville, Arkansas's FHS East Campus began offering “AP” (Advanced Placement) courses through a partnership with the University of Arkansas. College curriculum courses are taught for college credit (based upon passing final test) at the high school itself or, when necessary, with transportation provided to the University. This gave underchallenged students an opportunity to advance their college coursework while still in high school. More often than not, “underperformance” is due to lack of engagement rather than lack of intelligence or motivation. Customizing classes for each student based on not just their abilities, but their interests, can keep students from feeling punished or stigmatized for their deficiencies in one subject area as they discover their proficiencies in another. By emphasizing strengths over weaknesses, this approach would inspire students to define their passions and perhaps even become more motivated to succeed in their "problem" areas. It could also save costs at the university level as fewer resources will need to be allocated to offering remedial courses. I would like to see a strong line of communication between secondary, community college, and university officials to help better develop pathways to the university that are most beneficial to the student (id es, less costly both monetarily and mentally). In 2014, as part of his transformation plan, SLPS Supt. Kelvin Adams recommended outsourcing management of low performing schools. He has not yet implemented this, but what do you think about the idea? In general, I am not a fan of the term “outsourcing”. All too often, it implies private interests funded by public dollars. In some cases, these may be secular non-profit charities, funded by voluntary private donations which do not burden tax payers. However, this "outsourcing" also opens the door for private religious schools wishing to assist in “managing” our youth in these public institutions, which certainly oversteps the line separating church and state, were these new managing agencies to be funded by public tax revenues. While it may sound like a wonderful idea to help bring our public schools up to speed by adopting management styles similar to more successful schools, I believe we must be very careful in how we define "success, how we choose which institutions will implement such sweeping changes—and, most importantly, who will pay for it. Is it important that SLPS parents be represented on the school board? It is ESSENTIAL. All-Caps. Bold. Underline. Far too frequently, it is assumed that low-income parents “don’t care” or “aren’t involved” with their children’s education. We need to consider the reasons for this presumed lack of interest on the part of these parents; they often don't have Internet access in the home, have non-standard work schedules which keep them from getting to a public library to check e-mails, or hold hourly jobs which don't afford them paid time off to attend crucial meetings where their voices are expected to be heard. We must make it easier for these families to become more engaged in the process. Thanks to President Clinton's Telecommunications Act of 1996 and President Obama's expansion of President Reagan's Lifeline Assistance Program to include mobile devices, nearly every American (regardless of economic standing) has a cell phone these days. Perhaps one simple, low-cost way to improve dialogue between parents, teachers, administrators, and school board members is to implement a 24-hour text message format for communications and feedback from parents. We must extend alternative avenues for parent involvement and stop equating poverty with apathy. Charli Cooksey 1. Please supply a brief autobiography. (One paragraph) Charli Cooksey is a north St. Louis city native who lives the 21st ward, where she was born and raised across the street from Fairground Park. Charli attended Saint Louis Public Schools for a significant portion of her k-12 education and earned her bachelor’s degree from Prairie View A&M University, where she led campus and city-based activism initiatives to address voter disenfranchisement among college students and African American residents. She also ran for a local school board position in Waller County, Texas while in college. Charli joined Teach For America- St. Louis in 2009 and completed her two-year commitment at Compton Drew Middle School teaching English. While in the classroom. During her second year as a teacher, along with three other Corps Members, she founded inspireSTL. inspireSTL educates and empowers the future leaders of St. Louis by providing them with preparation and access to top performing college-prep high schools and four-year colleges, academic advising, social justice training, and mentorship. Under Charli’s leadership, brilliant, yet underserved scholars have been placed at a broad range of high schools. 100% of senior scholars have been accepted to a four-year college. Scholars have consistently maintained a collective B grade point average and are emerging as leaders in their schools and communities. Charli has also served on the executive committee of St. Louis’ Young Democrats and as vice president of the O’Fallon Community Organization. 2. An appointed board currently governs the SLPS. The elected board has limited responsibilities. While possible, given the national trend of removing urban school districts from governance by elected school boards, it is unlikely the elected board will return to power during the term for which you are running. Why, then, are you running? If you believe the elected board will return to power, please give reasons. I am running because I am committed to being a more purposeful advocate for all St. Louis city students. I believe that there is potential power for both the elected and appointed boards to serve our district’s children. Two sets of advocates are better than one. There is opportunity for collaboration if both boards are open to engaging in shared dialogue, idea generation, and problem solving, even if SAB remains in formal power. The Special Administrative Board is appointed to serve through June 2016 and there seems to be little clarity about district governance after that time arrives. If power does return to the elected board, I am confident in my passion, perspective, and diligence being part of the solution. If the elected board does return to power, I will be committed to effective governance and fighting to provide all city children to access to a quality education. 3. What is your understanding of the role of a board member? A board member’s first and only commitment should be to ensure the quality education of all students. In order to follow through on this commitment, I believe there are four top responsibilities of a school board member: 1. Lead the initiative of hiring of an amazing superintendent and empowering him or her to serve the district’s students in a transformative way. 2. Establish vision and a set of guiding recommendations and/or principles that align to realizing the vision 3. Align resources, budgets, contracts, major partnerships, policies, and procedures to the established vision 4. Build a bridge of collaboration, communication, and accountability between the district and the community 5. What do you want to accomplish as a board member? Long-term, I believe it is my responsibility to elevate the voices our families and the students. As a board member, I want to: 1. Create a collective vision and plan with the other board members, the superintendent, and community stakeholders (SAB, parents, students, business and civic leaders, social service agencies, elected officials) 2. Improve transparency and accountability so that the community is abreast of the district’s successes and challenges have a platform to voice their ideas and concerns, and have easier access to important information (data, meeting dates, opportunities, etc.) 3. Achieve transformative results that put all students of a path of living a productive life. If we get this right, we can create students who are: • Academically prepared • Financially prepared • Socially-emotionally prepared • Civically prepared • Healthily prepared More immediately, as a board member, it will be my priority to restore the board’s credibility, build bridges to the Special Administrative Board, regain parental trust, and re-engage business and civic leaders to return the people’s voices to the debate about a long-term, big, bold path for our young people. 6. Are you the parent of children who currently attend or graduated from the SLPS? Did you attend and/or graduate from the SLPS? Have you ever worked for the SLPS or are you related to a current or former employee? If you are not an SLPS parent, graduate, former employee or relation of one, do you have any other connection with the SLPS? I am a former student and teacher of SLPS. Currently, inspireSTL, the nonprofit I founded and run has a formal partnership with the district (in the form of a MOU). (The current partnership does not involve any exchange of money.) 7. What are your thoughts about the SAB, which governs the district? I respect and admire the service of the SAB. I appreciate any group of people who are committed to our city’s youth. I do see areas for growth, but that is also true for the local elected board. 8. What is your understanding of the effect of charter schools on the SLPS? Should more charter schools open in the city? I believe good charter schools who produce transformative results have a positive effect on the people who matter most—our youth. However, I am deeply committed to protecting and preserving the sustainability of SLPS as long as it continues to improve and educate students. I believe more quality schools should open and more existing schools should continue to improve. Ideally, that would be through SLPS, but good charter schools are not the enemy, but instead, partners ( I hope.) 9. Extensive marketing of charter schools and biased reporting in the media favoring charter schools continue to depress SLPS enrollment. Do you have any ideas to improve public confidence in SLPS and improve enrollment? SLPS enrollment has actually improved over the past few years. Dr. Adams seems to be headed in the right direction in terms of improving student enrollment. I believe the best way to improve public confidence is to celebrate good results. The more students who graduate from high school prepared for post-secondary paths, and who have the opportunity to live a productive life without being oppressed by poverty, the more families will enroll their students into SLPS schools. 10. What are your thoughts regarding the magnet schools? Magnet schools are good, but they are not as distinguished as in the past. We need to explore ways to ensure all schools are quality, magnet or not. 11. The SLPS is provisionally accredited. New tougher MAP standards may cause the SLPS to lose accreditation. What will you do to prevent the SLPS from losing accreditation? We need to increase the rigor of the curriculum and further develop strategies and interventions to support students who will struggle with the new level of rigor. To prevent SLSP from losing accreditation will take the sacrifice, relentlessly, rigor, and innovation of many, from the board to the teachers, to the parents, and community partners. We have to be collectively committed to seeing the district succeed. We will certainly have to overcome bureaucratic practices that prevent creativity and opportunities to change and grow. 12. What ideas do you have to help students learn? • Culturally responsive teaching • Creating a culture of community where students feel loved and valued in and out of the classroom • Wrap around support system to empower students to succeed despite the reality of poverty. It is hard for a student to learn if they are hungry and lacking essential resources. • Technology-based instruction and platforms for content mastery and practice • More purposeful partnerships with supplemental education agencies (before and after school and weekend programming) 13. What do you think about the MAP tests and standardized tests in general? Standardized tests are a necessary evil, but that should not be our bar as board members and community leaders. The bar needs to be set much higher, beyond a test score, and we must find a way measure student success holistically. The more we teach to a test the more we do a disservice to our youth. 14. Approximately 70% of SLPS high school graduates who enroll in college must take remedial courses. What policies would you promote to lower this statistic? We need to increase the rigor of our curriculum and instruction. We should work collaboratively with colleges and universities and backwards plan how to get students there successfully. We need to partner with schools and districts that are better preparing students for success in college. We need to provide supplemental instruction for students who struggle to handle the increased rigor. 15. In 2014, as part of his transformation plan, SLPS Supt. Kelvin Adams recommended outsourcing management of low performing schools. He has not yet implemented this, but what do you think about the idea? I will need more information to provide an answer. 16. Is it important that SLPS parents be represented on the school board? I believe it is important for parents to be represented on the board. I also believe the board should value the students voice and perspective. Their education should be done with them, not to them. The board should reflect the best interest of the people they are suppose to serve. Katherine Wessling Please supply a brief autobiography. (one paragraph) Having grown up in the Springfield, IL area, I have lived in St. Louis City since 1995; I have lived in the Princeton Heights neighborhood since 1999. A product of public schools myself, both of my children have attended schools in the SLPS system including: Wilkinson E.C.C., Dewey I.S.S., Humboldt Academy of Higher Learning, Compton-Drew I.L.C., and Collegiate School of Medicine and Bioscience. I have served on the Board of Education since 2007. I received my B.A. cum laude from Truman State University and my J.D. from Washington University School of Law. I currently work as the Managing Attorney for Crime Victim Advocacy Center and serve as faculty for the American Bar Association Commission on Domestic Violence for their national legal education programs. My community service includes volunteering with Girl Scouts as a troop leader and a neighborhood chair, holding various PTO officer positions, and volunteering for St. John’s Mercy Neonatal Intensive Care Unit Parent Support Group. The SLPS is currently governed by an appointed board. The elected board has limited responsibilities. While possible, given the national trend of removing urban school districts from governance by elected school boards, it is unlikely the ected board will return to power during the term for which you are running. Why, then, are you running? If you believe the elected board will return to power, please give reasons. I am running because, during my terms so far, I have found that being an elected member gives me the opportunity to share the voices of the parents and stakeholders in the district with the Superintendent and the SAB in a way that would not exist otherwise. I do believe that some of them listen and think about what the elected board members bring to their attention. I have also seen several instances in which ideas that began with the elected board have come to fruition. I voiced the idea of accrediting individual buildings a couple years before it happened. Members of the EB, of which I was one, met with Tom Schweich and got the ball rolling on the recent audit which brought to light many issues and resulted in changes within the district. As a Board member, I would continue to advocate for those things which need to happen. The fact that some of them do happen is encouraging. I think there is a transition on the horizon. I am not sure what that looks like. I do think over the next few years the decision on what that looks like will be made; I base that on actions and comments by the SAB and state personnel. I also base my belief that transition is coming on the fact that people have filed to run for Board seats in this election who are not people who have a history of attending Board meetings or working on district issues, but who do have some connection to the “powers that be.” I was on the committee of the EB years ago when we began drafting a responsible transition plan. I would like to continue to serve so that I can continue to assist in whatever form the transition away from the SAB takes so that it is done in a responsible and well thought out manner. The original transition from EB to SAB was not done that way and the students deserve better as the process is reversed. What is your understanding of the role of a board member? A board member is the voice of the community and is there to set policy, hire and evaluate the Superintendent, and ensure that the students receive an education that will serve them throughout their life. What do you want to accomplish as a board member? I want to help the Board continue to grow professionally and prepare to return to governing. I want to continue to press the district to improve relationships with parents and the community. I want to hold the district to high expectations on academic outcomes and options. I want to continue to press the district to be transparent and to communicate effectively with the community—not by handpicking certain people to “represent the community” because they know them and know they won’t rock the boat, but to invite participation from all who have interest and concerns. I want to advocate for appropriate funding for our public schools and to convince other elected officials that investment in education is necessary. Are you the parent of children who currently attend or graduated from the SLPS? Yes, I have a child enrolled at the Collegiate School of Medicine and Bioscience. My children in the past have attended Wilkinson, Dewey, Humboldt, and Compton-Drew. Did you attend and/or graduate from the SLPS? No, I did not move into St. Louis city until I was an adult. I spent the majority of my childhood in the Springfield, IL area. Have you ever worked for the SLPS or are you related to a current or former employee? I have never worked for SLPS. My mother in law was an lementary teacher with the district for many years. If you are not an SLPS parent, graduate, former employee or relation of one, do you have any other connection with the SLPS? n/a What are your thoughts about the SAB which governs the district?
I do not think this is an appropriate governing body for a school district. The community should have the right to elect those who will be their voice in their local schools. This arrangement does not inspire confidence in leadership. I think it says it all when you look at the statistics. In 2007, when the SAB took over, there were approximately 30,000 students in SLPS. Today there are about 25,000. It is that high only because of the closing of the Imagine Charter schools which sent several thousand students back to the district due to lack of any other option. Between 06 and 08 there was about a 7000 student drop in enrollment. That is the largest drop by far since 2001. It is clear that the parents did not believe that the SAB was going to make things better, and that has not changed if one believes in the old adage that people vote with their feet. What is your understanding of the effect of charter schools on the SLPS? They divert money and resources. Should more charter schools open in the city? No. But if the current governing structure and path we are on in SLPS continues,. Extensive marketing of charter schools and biased reporting in the media favoring charter schools continue to depress SLPS enrollment. Do you have any ideas to improve public confidence in SLPS and improve enrollment? Produce a good product. The culture within many buildings needs to change to one of high expectations and good communication between administration and families. The number one reason SLPS loses families, once they decide to give it a chance, is because of the way a staff member treats them. Failure to respond to questions, failure to behave professionally, and lack of knowledge on the district or the school in question is a huge problem with those in positions of first contact with the public. Further, the district needs be proactive in making sure parents are able to navigate the system. For example, the “Kennard or bust” mentality that many city families have is a big problem. Kennard is not right for every child—and not even for every gifted child, as I can say from personal perspective. But when parents apply and don’t get in, they are not told anything except “no.” If they were counseled on other options and knew that they were also good schools that other parents of gifted children have chosen, we would lose a whole lot less of them. That is just one example but it shows the kind of interaction the district needs to develop in terms of how it thinks about families in the city. What are your thoughts regarding the magnet schools? I think many have lost the focus which made them magnet schools in the first place. Mullanphy, for example, no longer has a special connection with the Botanical Garden. There is a lingering feeling in the community that “magnet=better” which is not accurate at this point. They have a place in that they offer, when done right, a specialized focus for children who have that inclination. Most children, however, benefit from exposure to a wide range of experiences as they learn what they want from their life, and going to a school that focuses heavily on one subject at the expense of all others is not good for a young student. While magnets have their place and need to be part of the system, they cannot replace the well-rounded education available in the traditional setting. The SLPS is provisionally accredited. New tougher MAP standards may cause the SLPS to lose accreditation. What will you do to prevent the SLPS from losing accreditation? There isn’t much a Board member can do as the governing structure stands now. If the EB returns to governance, I would work to make sure the district prioritized education over all else. Part of this would mean working to attract students who will succeed. Right now the district sends a pretty consistent message to parents and students who expect achievement that they are not the priority. The priority is the students who are failing. While we absolutely must address why students are failing, one thing we know is that the districts who are accredited are accredited because they also prioritize success. If SLPS wishes to regain accreditation, it must address the concerns of parents and families whose children will do well in school and who do not see SLPS serving their needs. There must be resources devoted to success and not only to remediation. What ideas do you have to help students learn? I am not an educator so I am not sure my role is to address this question. I do believe that students must have good, professional teachers. I believe the environment must promote learning and respect for learning institutions. I also firmly believe that the 7 am start time is harmful to student achievement, as decades of research have shown. That must change. What do you think about the MAP tests and standardized tests in general? I think one test a year is sufficient. I think the MAP needs to be given later because as it is now, the month and a half after the test is given lend themselves to not much academic work while everyone recovers from the January-March “zap the map” insanity. Approximately 70% of SLPS high school graduates who enroll in college must take remedial courses. What policies would you promote to lower this statistic?
We need to catch the students in the early grades who are not up to grade level and address the issue then. We have to stop promoting students along without giving them the tools they need to succeed at higher levels. I have seen the writing of many of our students who are considered A/B students. It is awful. Since there seems to be much concern about the emotional effect on students who are held back, I would like to explore the idea of schools that do not function by grade level but instead address students based on achievement level. That has been done before at lower grade levels with some success. In 2014, as part of his transformation plan, SLPS Supt. Kelvin Adams recommended outsourcing management of low performing schools. He has not yet implemented this, but what do you think about the idea?
I think it strange that a man who is being paid $225,000/year to do the job is publicly admitting that he can’t do it and needs to bring in someone else. Is it important that SLPS parents be represented on the school board? Yes. We have the unique ability to see how the policies enacted at the top are playing out in the classroom. There is no stakeholder with a greater interest Our mailing address is: Common Sense Publishing P.O. Box 1983 St Louis, MO 63118 USA