Extensive plan calls for more early-childhood education, a STEAM high school and closing some existing buildings

By Charlotte Beard

On Oct. 10, the Ferguson-Florissant School District Board of Education voted to restructure the district, add early education for three and four-year-olds, implement a STEAM high school and close some of its existing buildings. 

The hope is that these changes will create more opportunities for students to succeed academically. After having discussions in community forums and town hall meetings in prior months, Superintendent Dr. Joseph Davis presented three options for the board’s consideration (www.fergflor.org/strong). These options were the result of a multi-year effort to improve learning and achievement for students while increasing fiscal efficiency.

“Ferguson-Florissant School District is the birthplace of Parents as Teachers and we are expanding on that legacy,” stated Davis. Parents as Teachers is a free family education and support program that begins prenatally and extends through age five. 

“We are focused on strengthening the bookends of a strong foundation in early education and transforming high schools to prepare students for their future success in college and life,” said Davis.

Due to the feedback from the community and what the board deemed to cause the least financial burden, the board voted for Option 2. Under Option 2, Pre-K education is being formed for three and four-year-olds to attend school with students up to second grade. These full-day students will attend school a full week with certified teachers. 

Kevin Hampton, Executive Director of Communications and Marketing, shared that having the pre-K education will give students a strong foundation with certified educators and take away the pressure of the state testing that begins in third grade. There will be separate schools for third to fifth grade.

Another component to the plan is that there will be two sixth grade schools on the campuses of the seventh and eighth grade middle schools. The sixth grade is being added to ease students’ transition and provide access to advanced middle school programming. Currently there is a sixth-eighth grade STEAM Program on the first floor of the district’s building at 8855 Dunn Road.

In addition to including an innovation school that will allow students to experience a non-traditional environment in career academies, internships and mentor/instructors, the McCluer South-Berkeley school will be transformed into a STEAM high school. The remaining two high schools, McCluer and McCluer North will continue to serve grades 9-12. 

Hampton shared that the high school implementations will contribute to students being able to gain credits towards college. In addition, the district is especially focused on ensuring the educational improvements will benefit all students regardless of race, gender or economic status.

For as building plans to accommodate the restructuring, Hampton shared, “This option does not require any new construction but there will need to be some work done.”

Vogt and Airport Elementary Schools and Mark Twain Alternative School will close for repurposing to accommodate the plans. MGT of America Consulting assessed the school district’s facilities prior to the district’s announcement of the final plans. There is an understanding that shifting one age group in a building to a different age group creates a different level of capacity.

“They looked at the condition of the buildings, the site suitability, and the grounds,” stated Hampton. “They (also) looked at the technology infrastructures, not just how many computers. We don’t need a bunch of computer labs, but we need computers readily available.”

The plan is to have a timeline by Nov. 1 for the commencement of changes. The details of the curriculum for the pre-K group may be delayed. The hope is that plans will soon be underway for the 2019-2020 school year.

“(This is) a game changer for the community and sets us up to lead the way for other communities all over St. Louis and literally across the country,” said Hampton.

For updates and details visit www.fergflor.org/strong.

CUTLINE: Photo courtesy Ferguson-Florissant School District Members of the St. Louis Chapter of The Links, Inc. assists sixth-grade students at Vogt Elementary School in the Ferguson-Florissant School District with their new Chromebooks earlier this year. Vogt is one of three schools in the district that will be closed and repurposed under the new reorganization plan.