Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Troubled Normandy School District Looks for Answers amid Empty Chairs, Revolving Doors

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Troubled Normandy School District Looks for Answers amid Empty Chairs, Revolving Doors

Article excerpt

PINE LAWN * Several rows of chairs at the elementary school Saturday caught the small crowd's attention.

Not because they were purple, but because so many seats were empty at a time when perhaps the Normandy School District needs them filled the most.

The event at Barack Obama Elementary was supposed to be a "community conversation" about school safety. About 20 people showed up, and only a few of them were parents.

In 2012, Normandy High School reported 285 discipline incidents such as assaults, drugs and weapons that resulted in out-of-school suspension, a rate of more than one for every four students, the highest among high schools in the region.

At the start of the gathering, Superintendent Stanton Lawrence, who is leaving at the end of the school year to go home to Texas, said there should have been a standing-room-only crowd. Then, he launched into a presentation about how a quarter of students caused 100 percent of the 1,729 suspensions so far this school year. He said most of the problems start as troubling seeds planted outside school walls.

"It's not the responsibility of the school alone, but of the community," Lawrence said.

He said the community is fragmented like no other he has heard of in more than two decades of working in public education, including rough areas of Dallas and Houston. Normandy draws its 4,000 students from 24 municipalities. They live under 15 police departments and mayors. On top of that, nearly all of the students receive free or reduced lunch and over half of the student body moves at least once each year.

"We have to find a way to get around the table and work as one," Lawrence said.

There are added stresses, Lawrence said in an interview after the meeting. He'd never heard of a struggling school district merging with a failed school district, as Normandy did in 2000 with Wellston. …

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