Normandy Approves Plan to Build New Early Learning Center, Re-configure Elementary School Model
The Normandy Joint Executive Governing Board unanimously voted to approve the administration’s recommendation to build a new early childhood/kindergarten center facility at the public meeting October 9, 2017.
The new Early Learning Center is one of the projects made possible by the voters’ approval of Proposition N in April 2017. Prop N is a $23 million no-tax-rate increase bond issue which will provide funds for the new Early Learning Center, and facility upgrades throughout the Collaborative, including new STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, mathematics) studios and library media centers at Washington and Jefferson Elementary schools.
After Prop N was approved, the Normandy Schools Collaborative used the opportunity to solicit feedback from parents, community members and staff on the configuration of the new school to be built.
“We initially proposed the idea of a new 7th-8th Grade Center,” said Dr. Charles Pearson, Superintendent of Schools. “As we did further study, we realized that this was an opportunity to address academic challenges districtwide. The Normandy Schools Collaborative has had years of struggling performance with many students arriving at the middle school grades one to two grade levels behind. We knew we had to do things differently.”
The Normandy JEGB also approved a change for the district’s current elementary configuration, moving 7th and 8th graders to the elementary schools, similar to the configuration common in parochial, charter and private schools, thereby eliminating the middle school. To capitalize on the opportunity to shore up the academic foundation for students, the second part of the proposition is to expand the state-recognized early childhood program with a new building, which will house the ECC and kindergarten programs.
“This is an opportunity to address a long-time trend of below grade-level performance of many of our students,” said Dr. Pearson. “The decision to invest in the PreK and kindergarten programs is overwhelmingly supported by research which shows that students who attend early childhood programs with a strong curriculum are more likely to have academic success throughout their schooling.”
The Normandy Early Childhood Center has been recognized by Missouri for its curriculum and its Positive Behavior Intervention Systems (PBIS), and has a waiting list for students to enroll.
“By investing in a new Early Learning Center, we are able to expand our services and help build the foundation for improved student academic performance,” Dr. Pearson continued. “Missouri is ranked 44th in its investment of early childhood education. We have an opportunity to take the lead in something that’s a win-win for our students, families and the community.”
The decision to dissolve the 7th-8th Grade Center was more challenging. While there are successful models of schools for students in this age group, there are unique challenges for urban districts.
“We studied our student data, as well as the data of similar schools with similar demographics, and the constant is that the academic performance stalls during this stage,” said Dr. Pearson. “Because of this, students arrive at high school several years below grade level. We have to do something different.”
Several school districts in other major metropolitan areas have transitioned to a K-8 instructional model and while the research is limited, there are some signs of success. The research shows the benefits of moving to the K-8 (for Normandy it will be grades 1-8) model include: more of family environment because of the established relationships between students and teachers, and between families and the school. Research showed an increase in academic performance for 7th/8th grade students coming from 1-8 schools.
“Discipline events decreased overall for 1-8 schools with student populations similar to ours,” said Dr. Pearson. Because there were fewer 7/8 grade students in one building, research also found increased feelings of safety for eighth graders in these settings.
Prop N funds will be used to renovate and remodel the Collaborative’s current elementary schools to accommodate the return of the older students.
The decision to move the 7th-8th graders to the elementary buildings will require significant planning and other changes to the Collaborative’s way of doing things. But change may be what is needed to make the improvements required to become a viable and successful school district.
“We have a historic opportunity to do something radically different, to do a re-set and stop this trend,” said Dr. Pearson.
Top photo: artist's renderings of the new Early Learning Center, (center) addition at Jefferson Elementary and (bottom photo) Washington Elementary schools.
Elemiddle Research Articles
Prior to making the historic decision to reconfigure the elementary schools in Normandy, administrators conducted research to see the benefits and how this new model would work for Normandy students. Below are a few of the articles used in the research.