After Imagine, Hundreds Still without a School; Officials Scramble to Notify Former Charter School Pupils and Their Parents to Enroll for the New Year

Article excerpt

ST. LOUIS - Time is running out - that's the message for parents and guardians of more than 1,000 students who attended the now- shuttered Imagine schools and have yet to register for the new school year.

With the first day of school about a month away, administrators at St. Louis Public Schools, charter schools and the transition office are trying to account for hundreds of students from six schools that the Missouri Board of Education closed. Officials estimate nearly a third of students from Imagine have not enrolled in schools for 2012-13.

They'll spend the next few weeks trying to track them down, hanging signs and leaving postcards at groceries, parks and hair salons in neighborhoods surrounding the buildings with information about finding a new school.

"We're telling them it's time to make a decision," said Gwen Westbrooks, the state's transition coordinator for Imagine students.

Exactly how many students will show up when classes begin is unknown. Even so, St. Louis Public Schools is preparing for their arrival, including signing a $688,500 annual lease on a building for Imagine students, hiring 90 teachers and two dozen other staff.

The Imagine Schools were operated by a for-profit charter school management company based in Virginia. After years of questionable finances and academic failure, the Missouri Board of Education voted to close Imagine's six St. Louis schools in what has been called the largest charter shutdown in the country. Before the closures began, the schools had nearly 3,800 pupils and about 280 staff. Officials set out to find a new school for every child in the four months between the decision to close and the first day of the school year.

"It's as if an entire school district ... is being created and prepared for," said Rick Sullivan, chairman of the district's Special Administrative Board in a meeting this week updating officials on plans for the Imagine students.

The district is opening one of the former Imagine schools near Chouteau and Spring avenues specifically for Imagine students - about 725 in elementary and 263 in middle school.

The rent is less than a third of the what it was under Imagine - $2.4 million in 2009-10. The lease is for one year from Schoolhouse Finance, a subsidiary of Imagine Schools, according to a copy of the agreement.

Superintendent Kelvin Adams said it is more affordable for the district to lease the building rather than reopen one of the district's own.

"This building is basically a building we could walk into," Adams said. "We could not get a building ready as quickly as we would have needed to."

High school students from Imagine can go to what has been named College Preparatory High School at Madison, a school district building that housed alternative education students last year. …


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