ST. LOUIS • Hundreds of parents from the failed Imagine charter schools are expected at an enrollment fair today where they will consider dozens of schools to place their children this fall.
Among them: three new schools created by the St. Louis school system specifically for the 3,800 displaced students.
Their parents will likely have the choice of reuniting their children with some of their classmates at these new city schools. And many of the teachers and principals from the Imagine schools — which are set to close in June primarily due to academic failure — may be coming along, too.
"Good," said Vincent Sullivan, whose third-grade daughter is at Imagine Academy of Careers Elementary, 3740 Marine Avenue. "As long as they can keep the same teachers together and keep the kids together it will be a good transition."
The migration of children from the six Imagine schools likely ranks as the largest single closing of charter schools yet nationwide, creating a logistical headache as the St. Louis district potentially faces a sudden spike of enrollment of 10 percent or more. Administrators hope the latest plan would address that, tapping much of Imagine's faculty, while also offering families a degree of familiarity to the schools that are closing.
The school district has extended offers to three principals from the six Imagine schools to lead the new elementary, middle and high school, according to district spokesman Patrick Wallace. The buildings will only open if enough students enroll. And if they do, the schools could be filled with teachers from Imagine.
Earlier this month, Superintendent Kelvin Adams said the district could be hiring 281 certified teachers, mainly due to the expected influx of Imagine children into the district. Up to six schools may open depending on demand.
Of the certified staff who will be losing their jobs when Imagine schools close, 91 have applied for positions in the city schools, Wallace said. About 280 certified teachers and staff work at the Imagine schools.
District officials acknowledged this week that transferring Imagine staff and Imagine children to the new buildings could create a public perception problem. The Imagine schools performed worse academically than the school district and other charter schools in St. Louis.
If hired, Imagine principals and teachers would enter the district's workforce just as St. Louis Public Schools is getting closer to regaining accreditation.
But Doug Thaman, executive director of the Missouri Charter Public School Association and a critic of Imagine, said his concerns with the schools had to do with how the management company operated them, not necessarily with the educators.
"Our concerns had to do with the reports on limitations on resources, limitations on materials, not having what they needed to work effectively in their classrooms," he said.
Charter schools are public schools that are tuition-free and operate independently of the city school system. The Imagine schools are operated by a for-profit company, Imagine Schools Inc., based in Virginia.
Teachers who have worked in the Imagine schools tell similar stories a lack of classroom supplies, no curriculum to guide their teaching, and inadequate training throughout the school year.
Jeremy Housewright, who taught two years at Imagine Academy of Environmental Science and Math, said he was given an English class with no textbooks, reading material that did not interest middle school children and zero direction from the charter school company.
"I spent most my time gathering lesson plans on the Internet," he said.
Housewright now teaches seventh and eighth grade language arts at St. Clair Junior High in Franklin County. He said he's concerned about the job prospects of teachers who remain at the Imagine schools due to the reputation of where they teach.
"I'm doing everything I can for the people I know to get them on somewhere," he said.
State educators share his concern. They organized a job fair for displaced Imagine staff on May 5. Invitations went out to more than two dozen charter schools and area school districts, including those in St. Charles County. Recruiters from St. Louis Public Schools and four charter schools are all that showed.
Another job fair is scheduled for May 19 at Confluence Preparatory Academy, 310 North 15th Street.
"There is no way of knowing at this point, how many staff have found new jobs," said Gwen Westbrooks, the state's transition coordinator, in an email. "There are some excellent teachers and administrators in the Imagine schools. I've been in the schools and I've seen them."
Many parents at the Imagine schools say the staff is one of the reason they have remained loyal to the schools. They cite customer service — such as quick response from principals and teachers when they have concerns — as reasons why they left St. Louis Public Schools and have remained at Imagine.
Adams said his district could learn something from this. So, he had principals call every Imagine parent who enrolled their children in city schools to welcome them, he said.
Training for principals and teachers from the charter schools will begin over the summer. To the three new schools, they will bring some benefits that no one else will have.
"They have familiarity with the kids and their families," he said.
Alisha Franklin, with two children at Imagine Academy of Academic Success, 1409 East Linton Avenue, said she's still weighing her options for next year. She wants her children to have familiar classmates. "But if the staff isn't able to come and there's a whole new staff put in place, I don't want to be part of the school," she said.