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From Declining Enrollment to Culture, Top Challenges for Incoming St. Louis Public Schools Leaders | Celent Education

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st. Louie — Kelvin Adams zips around town on Monday, checking in on the first day of school one last time as superintendent.

The schools he visits symbolize the inequalities that plague the city and its public schools. He started school in South St. Louis with his McKinley Magnet School for Gifted Students, one of his top performing schools in the state. He then stops at Hamilton Elementary School near Delmar Boulevard. Here, last year, only a handful of his juniors tested proficient in English.

Adams announced her retirement earlier this month after 14 years of teaching St. Louis Public Schools. The inner-city school superintendent usually serves three years before he gets another job. In a chaotic time five years before Adams arrived, seven Superintendents patrolled his SLPS top posts.

St. Louis Public Schools Superintendent Kelvin Adams listens during a regular school board meeting at the district headquarters in downtown St. Louis, Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2022.

Christian Gooden, Post-Dispatch

“You became a director when I was 11,” SLPS board member Alisha Sonnier told Adams at a recent board meeting. “You led us into all sorts of waters, all sorts of orbits, and always had a steady, steady, constant hand. That is very valuable and very important.”

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The school board hired a company and began a nationwide search for a replacement for Adams. A job is definitely defined by hard work. Adams says he works 12 hours a day and then loses sleep, often sending emails at 3am. Adams is reluctant to delegate responsibilities because his current salary is $234,052 and he is indeed a micro-manager with lots of district checks. history of leadership.

But, as Sonnier explains, Adams also incorporated “the workings of the mind.” He kept his passion for children and their well-being at the forefront, staying out of the spotlight and focusing on his students.

Dr. Kelvin Adams helps fill a backpack of school supplies

On Wednesday, August 10, 2022, Patrick Henry Elementary School Principal Deborah Rogers shared a funny moment with St. Louis Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Kelvin Adams, who is having trouble with zippers while packing school supplies. I’m here. At the downtown district headquarters. Each student in the district receives a grade-appropriate bag of supplies on their first day of school.

Hilary Levin, after deployment

Adams’ most important legacy will be a stabilizing force in the school district. But even though he fixed the ship, he didn’t necessarily go in the right direction. His successor will face many of the same thorny challenges when he takes command in the fall of 2023.


If the St. Louis Public Schools continue to lose students at their current rate, they won’t exist in 20 years. The city’s population has been freely declining for decades, with black families in North City leading the exodus. In Southern cities, realtors talk of a “five-year itch” when white families begin to consider moving out of the city as their children approach kindergarten.

During Adams’ tenure, 25 schools closed due to low enrollment. St. Louis Public Schools fell from the state’s largest to fourth, behind Springfield, North Kansas City, and Lockwood. Registration numbers have fallen by a third under Adams, from his 27,500 in 2008 to about 18,500 last year.

The district has made several strides to attract and retain families, including a major expansion of its free pre-kindergarten program. did. This is a top performing magnet high school with an advisory board of business and civic leaders.

Eight schools have closed in 2021 due to low enrollment, but at least 20 remain, with fewer than 200 students, a measure of viability. Students travel by bus across the city to attend dozens of magnet schools, causing a traffic crisis due to driver shortages.

Dorothy Rohde Collins, past president and member of the school board from 2017 to 2021, said: More schools could be closed, and boundaries could be redrawn to consider where our children live. ”

back to school in st louis

On Friday, August 19, 2022, Lisa Kadlek, in her 33rd year of teaching and 15th year of kindergarten teaching at the Betty Wheeler Classic Junior Academy, organizes her books in her “Book Barn.” A magnet school with two kindergarten teachers and a classroom.

Robert Cohen, Post-Dispatch


While Adams turned the district’s finances around, academic performance continues to lag for most students. Test scores are consistently among the lowest in the state, with an average of 11% of students proficient in math and 18% proficient in English by Spring 2021.

Advocates point out that the district is increasingly offering non-academic community services such as food banks, clothes closets and even job placement services for parents. Most SLPS students live in poverty. About 1 in 5 he is homeless. Last year, she was only 50% of the students whose attendance was over 90%.

Rohde Collins says external stressors on students cannot be ignored when comparing SLPS to other district and state averages.

“The school district’s most important mission is the academic achievement of our children, but in a city like St. Louis, schools don’t operate in isolation,” she said. “While great for academics alone, unless these external factors are addressed, the school districts that are doing the most to close the gap will be at a disadvantage.”

Academics are also an equity issue in the SLPS, with test scores at select schools with the lowest poverty rates outperforming all other public schools in the state.

For example, at Betty Wheeler Elementary School in South City, 60% of the students are white and 30% are black. Overall, the SLPS is about 12% white and 80% black. Efforts under Adams have failed to bring talented programs closer to reflecting the district’s student population.

back to school in st louis

St. Louis Public Schools purchased supplies and backpacks for students this year. Supplies are waiting for students in her freshman room at Ellie Berkner’s Betty Wheeler Classic Junior Academy on Friday, August 19, 2022. Photo credit: Robert Cohen,

Robert Cohen


For Adams, the specter of gun violence haunts his time in St. Louis. He is haunted by the deaths of 160 students.

“The weight of this loss of life is heavy for everyone involved: school staff, counselors, social workers, police, neighbors, community leaders, and our main focus – children and their families,” Adams said. wrote to the Post-Dispatch in 2019. “We will not allow violence of any kind in our schools or communities. Our children are not replaceable. Our children and this community deserve more.” It deserves to get better.”

Adams saw the deaths of 8-year-old Jurnee Thompson, who was shot near Soldan High School after a football game, and 7-year-old Xavier Usanga, who was shot while playing outside his home, during a particularly violent summer. I wrote an article after Blocks from clay elementary school.

After retiring in December, Adams hopes to continue serving the city’s children. His replacement as superintendent will inherit several violence prevention projects, from gun lock giveaways to volunteer escorts at school bus stops.

Ray Cummings, president of the St. Louis teachers’ union, said the trauma children experience in their neighborhood carries over into the classroom. Cummings would like to see more support for teachers when students have behavioral issues.

“Not only are these students in serious trouble, but if we don’t intervene, they will only continue to plague our community,” he said.

back to school in st louis

On Friday, August 19, 2022 at Magnet School near North Hampton, Betty Wheeler Classic Junior Academy fifth grader Harmony Frazier, 10 years old, attended school and received an iPad. Public schools in St. Louis start Monday. Photo by Robert Cohen,

Robert Cohen


Some teachers and principals have criticized Adams’ heavy-handed approach to leadership, saying they find it suffocating in classroom decision-making and creativity.

Adams appreciated the fairness of the criticism, but said he considered the role to be very detail-oriented after years of poor management.

Cummings said the faculty union had had a productive relationship with Adams, but would seek more autonomy under the incoming superintendent.

“It’s clear that many teachers feel disrespected,” he said. “The biggest challenge is that we are understaffed. We have a large group of people who are proving themselves deputies, but they need a lot of support.

Cummings hopes the new superintendent will implement a strong “grow yourself” plan to encourage students to enter the teaching profession.

Avis Hunches, whose children are entering grades 4 and 6 at SLPS, said she wants more bold public advocacy from district leaders.

“It looks better for the superintendent to be a little more positive rather than always defending what happened,” Funches said. “I like people with imagination. I want to impress someone. I definitely need new ideas.”

Kelvin Adams was a steady force at the St. Louis school. He also faced major hurdles.

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