The parents felt they had waited long enough.
They were patient for a year and three months of the transition of McKinley Classical Leadership Academy from a gifted middle school to a gifted middle school and high school.
The city school district added a ninth-grade class to the school last year. It added a tenth-grade class this year. The two classes have a total enrollment of 45 students.
And yet, the district added no additional funds to the school. It added no teachers, either.
The school is being run as a middle school and ninth and tenth grade using only the money and staff already allocated for the middle school.
When parents approached district administrators about the issue, they learned that a plan is being developed to put staff and money into the school to support the gifted high school program. By 2011, the district might have 16 teachers spread over four grades at the high school.
Theresa Griffin, the parent of a sophomore at the school at 2156 Russell Blvd., wasn’t mollified.
“What is the plan now, not down the road?” she asked. “I want to keep my baby here. I want her to stay here. I can’t keep telling her ‘Honey, come on, wait.’ You are all talking about down the line. I want to know about now.
“I can’t wait until her junior year to find out what the St. Louis Public Schools is going to do for my child.”
Other parents also voiced their impatience with the district when they held a town hall meeting on the topic on Nov. 3. In attendance were several administrators from the St. Louis Public Schools, including Special Administrative Board Chairman Rick Sullivan and new superintendent Kelvin Adams on his first day on the job.
One parent, Andrew Wimmer, who along with his wife arranged the meeting with district officials, said there were three things people wanted to know: Is there a plan for creating the high school; how will it be staffed; and will there be money budgeted for it.
From principal Brenda Smith, the parents already had learned no money had been allocated from the expansion and the teachers were being re-assigned to cover the new grades.
Smith shared her vision for the school with those at the meeting, but Wimmer said the vision is not a plan that has been approved by the district.
Dan Edwards, the district’s assistant superintendent for secondary schools, said he and other administrators began working on a plan for the school two weeks vbefore the meeting. He said they expect to have a plan developed and bring it to the Special Administrative Board for approval within two weeks.
Components of that plan would include renovating the currently-unused third floor of McKinley to be dedicated to high school courses; adding four teachers per grade level, an assistant principal over the high school and a counselor; and adding advanced placement courses before the first class graduates in 2012.
Griffin and Wimmer both asked what could be done now.
Christina Bennet, co-chairwoman of the school’s Parent Teacher Organization, said these gifted students would be accepted at parochial and private schools. She said that if the city school district wants to keep them, it should make changes soon.
The district’s interim chief academic officer, Charles Simms, said parents have reason to be concerned, but work has begun on a plan. He said Smith has been authorized to hire two additional teachers. She is now in the process of interviewing candidates for those jobs.
Mae Soule, the mother of a sixth-grade student, said that the district’s lack of a plan for the school is not good enough for her daughter.
“It says to me they don’t really have their stuff together,” she said. “Maybe I should look to move on for my family.”
Parents also asked that the district consider pushing back the deadline for students to apply for magnet schools. They would like to hear the district’s plan for McKinley before deciding whether their children should apply to attend that school or another. The deadline to apply at McKinley and some of the other premiere magnet schools in the district is Nov. 14
Sullivan said he heard the desire for a plan and the urgency needed. Adams said there is a commitment by the district to grow McKinley into a small high school.
Edwards said the district will use Carnahan and Northwest schools, which are being transformed from middle schools to high schools, as models for how to change McKinley.
“What we did at Carnahan, we have to do here,” Edwards said. “Should we have done it before? Yes.”
As to why nothing was planned before, Sullivan said, “I don’t think there’s a good answer.”