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Normandy schools

Normandy School Board Member Terry Artis (center) speaks at a listening town hall meeting he hosted on Monday, April 22, 2013, at the Natural Bridge Branch library. Photo by Christian Gooden, cgooden@post-dispatch.com

NORMANDY • A former member of the Normandy School Board has produced a 67-minute documentary that raises questions about who is responsible and accountable for the decades-long decline that resulted in the district falling under state control last summer.

Throughout the film, “The Dismantling of the Normandy School District,” Terry Artis shows footage of parents and community members questioning the intent of the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education as the district buckled under the financial pressure of the school transfer law. It also shows Artis accusing state education officials of racial bias as they determined the course of the district, whose students are primarily black and low-income.

But Artis places the blame of Normandy’s demise on one person: himself.

“I’m to blame first and foremost,” he says into the camera.

Artis graduated from Normandy High in 1982, when its student body was more economically and racially diverse. After he got married, he and his wife bought a house in Hanley Hills, one of 24 municipalities in the north St. Louis County school system.

But they never sent their daughter to Normandy schools, which were struggling. Instead, they sent her to elementary school in the University City and Winfield school districts, where Artis’ wife worked at the time. Later, they rented an apartment in St. John so their daughter could go to Ritenour Middle School in the neighboring Ritenour district. Two years ago, she graduated from the prestigious Metro Academic and Classical High School in St. Louis.

“I just sat there and paid my taxes,” Artis said an interview. “I didn’t do anything to change the condition of my school district. I should have been the activist, the reformer. I just let it go. A lot of it rests on me. A lot of it does.”

He didn’t get involved until he ran for School Board in 2013. He served until the state took over in July 2014.

The idea that parents and residents should have done something to halt the district’s decline is prevalent throughout the documentary.

“We failed our children, and we cannot blame anyone for the problem we created,” says a mother, Melba Collins, during a February 2014 public forum. “You look around us. How many parents are here?”

Artis has footage from 2010 when, at the state’s direction, the district absorbed students from the failed Wellston school system — a move that has angered many Normandy parents ever since. Normandy’s decline accelerated.

And he captures the racial divides exposed at a hearing in St. Charles County, when some parents expressed outrage that Normandy students would be transported to Francis Howell schools by bus, if they decided to leave under the state’s school transfer law and needed transportation.

Artis recently earned a bachelor of science degree in media studies with an emphasis on film from the University of Missouri-St. Louis. The documentary is his first postgraduate work.

While on the School Board, Artis was perhaps its most outspoken member. He urged voters to oust most members of the board he was serving with. He also voted against paying the tuition to receiving districts that had enrolled Normandy transfer students. In the film, he said he supported parents’ decisions to send their children elsewhere. But the amounts districts were charging in tuition were exorbitant, he said.

The documentary is scheduled for a public screening at 7 p.m. Friday at the Regional Arts Commission, 6128 Delmar Boulevard in University City. Admission is $10.

Artis is working on other screenings.

“My hope is that this will stimulate some movement in people,” Artis said. “It certainly isn’t over, because the failure continues.”