- Bel-Nor School
Ryffel Steps Down from JEGB, Plans to Remain Active in Community
NORMANDY, MO -- An established investment banker, Richard Ryffel works with a myriad of clients who need his advice on resolving their financial challenges. He joined the Normandy Joint Executive Governing Board at one of the most challenging times in the district’s history.
The state had stripped the district’s accreditation, the transfer program was beginning and Normandy was approaching bankruptcy. Actually, calling it challenging, is an understatement.
“People were animated and yelling,” Ryffel recalled of those initial public JEGB meetings. “Those were some pretty tough days.”
After serving five years — including stints as the board’s president and vice president — Ryffel stepped down from the Normandy JEGB in May. And while he stepped into a rocky situation, the husband and father of four felt an obligation to serve when he was asked. Ryffel was approached by influential members of the community, including Maxine Clark (founder and former CEO of Build-A-Bear) to serve on the appointed school board in the newly formed Normandy Schools Collaborative. Ryffel also had a connection to Normandy through his service on the Beyond Housing board of directors.
“Having worked in the 24:1 (24 communities of the Normandy district’s footprint) and in North County generally for so many years, I felt like I had a handle on some of the challenges,” Ryffel explained. “But we weren’t making adequate progress in addressing this, and I wanted to get involved in helping to solve these challenges.”
One of the major issues facing Normandy when Ryffel joined the board was the district’s financial outlook. With the state-mandated transfer program, students left Normandy, and with them, went millions of dollars for tuition to receiving districts. Many thought the district would go bankrupt.
“I had a pretty good sense [of school finance] having worked with similar school districts,” Ryffel explained. “I was familiar with bond financing and other tools districts have at their disposal. I could analyze financial statements, so along with the MSBA training, I was able to help in this area.”
The district’s finances have since stabilized, as well as other areas of the operation. Ryffel credits his fellow board members who come from a variety of industries for helping to turn around Normandy. For example, Rev. Cedric Portis’ expertise in construction and engineering; Pamela Westbrooks-Hodge’s expertise in IT, finance, and strategic planning; Sheila Williams’ experience as an educator; and Sara Foster’s expertise in Human Resources.
“The same way we were a working board, all of us have brought something tactical to the district,” Ryffel continued. “We were rolling up our sleeves and really getting involved in operational issues. It was very actionable from day one.”
And the evidence of the efforts is visible. The district’s finances have rebounded where in 2017, teachers and staff received their first pay increase in eight years. Student test scores continue to improve, helping the district earn provisional accreditation in 2017. Not the end goal of full accreditation, but a major accomplishment earned in just three years.
And the residents’ confidence in the district is growing. In 2017, the district won a $23 million bond issue election, receiving close to 70 percent of the votes cast. With these additional funds, the district built additions to Jefferson and Washington elementary schools, and a new Early Learning Center for students in pre-school, pre-kindergarten, and kindergarten.
“We had the momentum on our side and our community has consistently stood with us,” Ryffel said. “Presenting the bond issue was a way to show the residents that we were serious about the future of Normandy and we wanted to make the investment necessary to continue that forward movement.”
Now that Ryffel has stepped down, he plans to continue to serve the North County community with Beyond Housing, working to bring needed resources to the Normandy area. He is also a member of a group called Normandie FORE, looking to revive the Normandie Golf Course as a public and educational resource.
For board members following in Ryffel’s shoes, his advice is simple.
“This district can be a force for change in North County, a part of the area’s revitalization,” he said. “Do your best. The students and families deserve it.”
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CAPTION: Richard Ryffel (center) was presented a plaque in recognition of his service on the Normandy Joint Executive Governing Board. Ryffel is shown here with JEGB members Sara Foster, Rev. Cedric Portis, Pamela Westbrooks-Hodge, Sheila Williams, and Superintendent of Schools Dr. Charles J. Pearson.