Your public schools: Failing school districts pose challenges for students, communities

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by Jasmine Huda

KMOV.com

Posted on September 15, 2010 at 9:31 PM

Updated Thursday, Sep 16 at 10:20 AM

(KMOV) -- Glenda Thornton, a 1978 graduate of Sumner High School in north St. Louis, never misses a football game. But as much as she tries to give back, she also wants out of a school district that she believes failed her son.

“He works in a warehouse. He couldn’t get into college,” Thornton said. “That says a lot.”

Thornton knows a quality education determines the fate of its community, from building safe neighborhoods to creating jobs.

The St. Louis Public School District and East St. Louis School District 189 serve as examples of districts that have taken a toll on their communities.

SLPS has a history of failure. In 2007, the state stripped the district of its accreditation, citing low test scores, poor financial oversight, and declining enrollment.

The district has taken steps to regain its accreditation; however, despite improvements, enrollment is down. SLPS enrolled more than 36,000 students during the 2005-06 school year. Four years later, the figure dropped to about 26,100, a decline of almost 18%.

Families seeking a better education for their children are turning to private or charter schools.  St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay, a major proponent of charter schools, says families will stay in the city of St. Louis if quality options are available.

But he acknowledges that historically, the public school district is reason enough for families to leave the city.

“If they can't find another choice, they leave. They move out to St. Louis County, and some other suburban school district, as they've been doing for decades,” Slay said.

The Hazelwood School District in north St. Louis County, for example, has enrolled more than 600 students from SLPS in the past two years.

Across the river, parents express frustration over one of the nation’s historically troubled school districts. East St. Louis School District 189 remains under academic watch, and enrollment is continuing to fall.

In 2002, District 189 enrolled 10,140 students. The figure has since dropped to approximately 7,440, according to the latest numbers provided by the state of Illinois.

“Parents have choices…I can't tell you that every school. I can't tell you that every school is excellent. We wish that they were,” Superintendent Dr. Theresa Saunders said.

Saunders parents who are actively involved in their children’s education can make District 189 work for them. She cited Otis and Shekima Woodard, who have lived in the district for eight years. The Woodard’s three children are enrolled at District 189.

"We're known down in all the schools, they know our faces when we walk in,” Otis Woodward said.

But recently, the Woodwards had a change of heart about District 189. His daughter, a student at East St. Louis Senior High, said the school was without air conditioning or books during the first week of the school year.

"It's like, enough is enough,” [Otis] Woodard said. "I've been in the district eight years. And this is not the first time that this has happened."

Woodard said he is considering moving to Belleville, where he believes he can find a more stable environment and quality education for his children.

Superintendent Saunders said the high school is an old building and is in need of repair. She said the building, just like the academic standing of the district, cannot be changed overnight in East St. Louis.

“The district is making progress and is continuing to do so,” she said.

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