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Superintendent Needs ‘Something Concrete’ To Stop St. Louis Public Schools’ Closure Plans

On Tuesday, St. Louis Public Schools Superintendent Kelvin Adams agreed to delay for one month the school board vote on a plan to close 10 schools and transition another. Adams had asked for the closures in light of declining enrollment.

But activists, alumni and local politicians have pushed back on the closure plans, claiming they were rushed and came with too little public notice. The city’s Board of Aldermen voted 19-1 on a resolution opposing the plan.

Now, Adams said on St. Louis on the Air, those critics have a chance to step up. He said he’d reached out to elected officials and nonprofit groups alike and would begin meetings next week to hear their ideas.

“This gives us the opportunity to listen a little more intently to groups that have indicated ‘stop,’” he said. “We simply want to listen and find out what they can bring to the table.”

Adams said he is open to their arguments. But if they want to make headway, they need to bring specifics.

“Right now it’s been a lot of — I don’t want to say noise, but a lot of conversation around what could happen or what should happen,” he said. “It has to be something much more concrete and timely that we can look to impact the school. The idea that neighborhoods might grow four years from now is great. That’s fantastic. But it doesn’t impact what we need to do now.”

And while Adams said he’d consider each school on an individual basis, he is utterly convinced of the need for closures.

“The resource alignment has to take place,” Adams said. “We have schools that have less than 100 students. We are providing a great deal of resources to keep those schools open, which means we’re taking from schools that have larger populations.”

He also suggested that arguments in favor of keeping kids in their own neighborhoods were out of touch with current realities. Thanks to the district’s court-ordered magnet schools, along with charter schools, he said, “the neighborhood school went away a long time ago.”

The district already spends $25 million on transportation every year, Adams said. And no school within the district has more than 60% of its pupils coming from its own neighborhood. “Most are around 20 or 30%,” he added.

Asked whether charter schools are siphoning kids from the district, Adams said, “I think the answer is simply ‘yes.’”

But, he added, “I think the larger piece is we just have less students in the city of St. Louis. When I arrived here 12 years ago, we had about 60,000 students taking advantage of 103. Now there are 45,000 students taking advantage of 110 schools.”

Of that total, 18,248 are enrolled in St. Louis Public Schools. Adams said, “We have a declining city population, i.e. a declining child population, and charters have the ability to grow schools … and we have opened some schools as well.”

Some outcry has focused on Sumner High School, the first Black high school west of the Mississippi River. It has a roster of famous alumni but only about 200 students currently in a building meant for 1,100. Others have questioned the impact on students being moved to a new school midway through their education.

Adams said he was sympathetic to the concerns, comparing closing a school to a death. But he was also resolute.

“All we’re trying to do is provide more services to kids,” he said. “Closing these buildings will allow us to do that.”

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio /

Copyright 2020 St. Louis Public Radio

Sarah Fenske joined St. Louis Public Radio as host of St. Louis on the Air in July 2019. Before that, she spent twenty years in newspapers, working as a reporter, columnist and editor in Cleveland, Houston, Phoenix, Los Angeles and St. Louis. She won the Livingston Award for Young Journalists for her work in Phoenix exposing corruption at the local housing authority. She also won numerous awards for column writing, including multiple first place wins from the Arizona Press Club, the Association of Women in Journalism (the Clarion Awards) and the National Society of Newspaper Columnists. From 2015 to July 2019, Sarah was editor in chief of St. Louis' alt-weekly, the Riverfront Times. She and her husband, John, are raising their two young daughters and ill-behaved border terrier in Lafayette Square.