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Thoughts and Photos from Schools Press Conference

July 17, 2006 Education, Events/Meetings, Politics/Policy 13 Comments

IMG_3769.jpgToday four of the seven members of the St. Louis School Board welcomed Dr. Diana Bourisaw to the job as interim superintendent. We got the usual students at the start saying how excited they were about the school system and one introduced the “best board president we’ve ever had.” Give a break! I supported these folks yet I still don’t need to hear such orchestrated praise.

I have to say I liked Dr. Bourisaw, she seemed genuine and personable. I could see a glimpse of hard-assed administrator as well. All good qualities. Despite the PR blunder that was last week I do think having a board and superintendent on the same wave length is beneficial regardless of ideology. Without cooperation nothing gets done at all.

Blame for past non-cooperation can be spread to all seven members of the board, former Superintendent Creg Williams and probably a host of other players, including Mayor Slay. Singling out the four: O’Brien, Purdy, Downs and Jones is unfair and unproductive. Can we single them out for a botched firing? Oh yeah!

Nothing much was learned from Bourisaw’s presentation. However, one part jumped out at me. She was talking about being prepared for the beginning of school on August 28th and said what a great staff we have at 801 (headquarters). That to question the ability of the schools to open on the 28th was to question the staff & teachers of the St. Louis Public Schools. That is when my ‘wait a minute’ trigger in my brain went off. Didn’t the board last Friday say they had to get rid of Williams now because the beginning of the school year was going to be a disaster? Well, which is it?

The fairest criticism of Williams’ performance is that in his 15 months on the job, 12 of which with a rubber stamp board, has failed to address the looming $50 million budget shortfall that we’ll face in roughly 18 months.

IMG_3776.jpgFollowing the press conference things got more interesting. Reports rushed past Bourisaw to get to Veronica O’Brien. I couldn’t get close enough to hear the questions or the answers but the look on O’Brien’s face told me she was not to pleased with the line of questions. If she is going to survive in this job she is going to have to learn to do a better job answering the tough questions.

The other thing is all the comments of late about the teachers union taking back control of the school board. Were they ever in control? Are they in control now? And for all the talk of this being a union town I’m certainly hearing a lot of anti-union commentary, reminding me of Oklahoma.

IMG_3787.jpgA very well spoken and very angry parent had a few words for school board member Donna Jones (O’Brien listened in for part of the time). This time Jones didn’t run, she stayed and listed to this concerned (and did I mention very angry) parent. Meanwhile, Peter Downs was no 10 feet away by himself, somehow managing to avoid the angry sentiment.

I don’t like how all this went down last Friday. I don’t like how a lot of things go down in this city. Still, I think we owe Dr. Bourisaw some leeway if only for a few months. I want to see how the school season starts, what will she keep from Dr. Williams’ strategic plan and what will the accreditation scores from this past school year be when released in September.

The school board meets tomorrow night, should be a full house with lots to say. Teachers will be there in full force applauding while I think we’ll see a strong contingent of parents and politicos showing their displeasure. The drama continues.

Look for video on St. Louis Schools Watch soon.

– Steve


Currently there are "13 comments" on this Article:

  1. I came across your blog while browsing through Technorati. I just wanted to leave a comment to say I think it’s great the way you’re monitoring the happenings in the STL school districts. I wish more people would take such an active interest and role in other cities around the country. Keep it up!

  2. maurice says:

    Can someone say class-action? If it weren’t for the fact that the majority of the parents of children in the STLPS were poor, they would gather together and sue the district for change. Concerned parents need to step in and take control and sue for changes to make those broken promises right.

    Long ago the STLPS forgot that they were their for the children and the future of St. Louis instead of every relative that needed a job. Those buildings, those poor grades, those teachers that can’t teach all didn’t happen overnight.

    Those few hard core caring teachers that are still in the district should be given a purple heart for bravery.

  3. Jim Zavist says:

    I basically agree with you, Steve. The short-term hurdle is getting the schools open in a month and educating the kids. This apparently includes signing (or not) a lot of teachers to contracts following the forced terminations / resignations / reassignments earlier this year. It also means having to live with most, if not all, of the programs and initiatives already in place. Hopefully, the Board and the new super won’t do anything really stupid on Tuesday, like “reinventing the wheel” as far as programs for this fall.

    Bigger picture, I see three major areas of concern – the looming deficit, a continuing decline in enrollment and, as a result, a real need to both close schools and reduce staff. Given all the continuing missteps, I doubt the voters can be convinced to increase funding, so revenues will likely continue at current levels. Increasing salaries will require cutting bodies and/or services. Not increasing pay will be a non-starter with the union, likely much more important than not hiring and/or terminating staff, although that drumbeat will always continue.

    Much like the Catholic church, more school closures are both inevitable and needed. Yes, neighborhood schools are important and smaller classes are great, but the only way to address both declining enrollment and stagnant income is to cut back. And fewer classrooms will mean fewer teachers. Maybe this won’t be all bad. Given seniority, maybe the system will end up with a higher percentage of experienced teachers and fewer “newbies”. I’d also rather see a vibrant, well-maintained school in my neighborhood than one that looks like too many now do. Like the Lindenwood School in my area, there can and should be a life for a school building that’s no longer needed to educate the kids. Sell them to people who both care and have the resources to reinvent the structure, and the neighborhood will actually be better off in the long run.

    Like you said, we need to give the new boss a lttle breathing room – hopefully she’ll use it wisely. We all need to get beyond the current squabbles and focus on the real mission, delivering a quality educational experience for all kids in the district!

  4. Becker says:

    I wonder if Dr. Bourisaw we reinstitute the “personal finance”=”how to apply for food stamps” classes that Dr. Williams finally tried to eliminate?

  5. Maybe says:

    What is the measure for success for this, or any, school board? MAP scores? Accreditation points? Enrollment? I guess I would like to see some concrete goals for 1-3-5 years out. The previous board didn’t publicize such goals either, but I still would like to see them.

  6. A Parent says:

    I will give her maybe three months before the school board receives its payback and she again joins a long line of fired administrator that exits the district with a hand full of cash and the student have nothing to show for the administratorÂ’s work. I hope she has not stopped looking for work since it appears she and the board will have everyone gunning to see the school fail. I cannot think a worse scenario to place on the failing school system and the city. Time to plan a move to New Town, the farmland island in St. Charles.

  7. Joe Frank says:

    Lindenwood School is a curious example, Jim, given that:

    1) It was closed in the early 1980s by court order, because it was in an all-white neighborhood and hard to desegregate;

    2) It sat for almost 25 years as an underutilized administrative office space / teacher training site;

    3) It again sat for almost 3 years under the unwatchful ownership of a family whose other business is a carpet store in Jefferson County. They certainly did not “care and have the resources to reinvent the structure”;

    4) Now, finally, after all this time, it’s getting developed by a joint venture of Saaman and Rothschild with a new cul-de-sac private street of vinyl-clad boxes on the schoolyard.

    Hopefully, the condos in the old school will at least have some historic character, if the carpet store people didn’t gut the place entirely.

    If schools are to be closed, though, I hope a more sensible decision-making procedure is used this time around.

  8. Mike says:

    I’m leaning towards the belief that this is good thing. New board means new superintendent. Though I’m disappointed the board didn’t do this sooner because I believe they’ve known the writing was on the wall.

    In my opinion, this district is a disaster and we need 3-5 years or full speed ahead work to get it turned around, and with all this turnover, the district can never get out of second gear.

    All of the interested parties need to have a major meeting of the minds and get a plan and vision on how to turn this around. Then they have to have the guts to see it through, which means we need stability at the leadership positions.

    Frankly, I just don’t think it will get done. Too much animosity between everyone. And, while I hate to paint with a broad brush, I just don’t think the teachers and administrators are willing and able to go through the pain to get to the gain.

  9. Jim Zavist says:

    . . . and having Lindenwood sit “for almost 25 years as an underutilized administrative office space / teacher training site” was somehow GOOD for the neighborhood?!

  10. maurice says:

    Yes there is too much anger in the many sides and the children are the only ones to suffer. Who is to say the veteran teachers are better than the newbies? The problems of the district is that these problems built up over years of mismanagement and neopitism. It will not disappear overnight. And as long as those on the board are on the board to ‘get back’ at others or to prove they have power over others or….the list goes on and on. The children.

    If only the children had the power to vote.

  11. Andromeda says:

    In order to revitalize the schools in St. Louis City you have to change the attitudes and minds of the people that live in St. Louis City. Most of them feel that because they don’t have money they can do nothing to change what is happening. This is untrue. Dr. King, Malcom X, Ghandi and many other revolutionaries didn’t have money and look at what they did.
    If people would stop minding their business and realise that it’s our business as a community maybe something good will happen. I like the way people keep sending their children into schools that they feel are failing them. Why are we not holding the churches that we give money to more responsible to help? Why aren’t we organising and opening our own schools? I’m not trying to make this a race issue, but we all know that the way school is taught in this country isn’t necessarily the best for black children, especially when we don’t have the money to pay for the extra tutoring and private lessons for musical instruction or the other extracurricular activities. Why aren’t we taking it into our own hands a creating a structure like the YMCA where day time and nighttime school are held to actually educate and uplift the children? It’s not easy to start anything new nor is it easy to just go along and sink with the ship you are already on. What will it take for people to make a choice to better things instead of try to hide and not be different? Just some questions from a college student looking for a different and better way to do what must be done.

  12. Heather says:

    I’m hopeful Dr. Bourishaw will not become the handmaiden of the schoolboard and will continue to impliment many of the aggressive changes Dr. Williams proposed. I’ve been disappointed by the lack of parental involvement in the schools but I was heartened by the anger, disappointment and disgust expressed by so many parents with Dr. Williams firing. We finally had a superintendant who did not meekly follow the norm of “That’s how it’s always been”. He abandoned the poverty mentality and wanted to create the opportunities for all of our children, no matter the race or class, to fulfill their societal potential. Dr. Williams gave me hope the city schools will finally prove poor doesn’t mean stupid. Maybe Dr. Bourishaw can keep that hope afloat.

  13. Heather says:

    Why are we not holding the churches that we give money to more responsible to help?
    >Churches have NO business in public schools. Period.

    Why aren’t we organising and opening our own schools?
    >There are several charter schools created because of dissatisfaction withthe current school system. St. Louis Charter School & Confluence Academy are two of the most prominant. There has also been a significant rise in secular homeschooling

    I’m not trying to make this a race issue, but we all know that the way school is taught in this country isn’t necessarily the best for black children, especially when we don’t have the money to pay for the extra tutoring and private lessons for musical instruction or the other extracurricular activities.
    >Schools in our country are not designed to met the needs of any child regardless of race, gender or class. When our children can’t read above a fifth grade level, when they can’t find Idaho on a map of the US, when they can’t add more then five columns of number correctly, when funds for music, gym and art classes are on the accounting room floor, it is obvious this country is NOT meeting any child’s academic needs.


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