The first charter school in St. Louis County has postponed its opening to fall 2022 after failing to secure a building and falling short of enrollment targets.
Organizers of The Leadership School had planned to open in August in the Normandy area with 125 students in kindergarten through second grade.
As of this month, 26 students in kindergarten and first grades have indicated their intent to enroll, with six completing the registration process. The school is under contract for a facility at an undisclosed location, but renovations will not be completed by August, said executive director Kimberly Townsend.
“We want to make sure we can start with the right building, in the right location, in time for parents to make the best decision for their children,” Townsend said at the school’s board meeting Tuesday.
Charter schools receive public funding but are privately operated. Under state law, charter schools can open in St. Louis, Kansas City and in other school districts that persistently fail to meet accreditation standards.
The Normandy Schools Collaborative has not been fully accredited for the last decade and is overseen by a state-appointed board. Its test scores rank lowest in the state, with 15% of students proficient in English and 7% in math in 2019, the last year the state tests were given.
The charter school has faced opposition from the Normandy community, including mayors and other elected officials who are concerned about losing students and funding for the school district. Money that the state would have paid to the school district to educate a student follows that child if he or she enrolls at a charter school.
“Any money taken from a school district that’s already struggling financially is going to hurt the other kids in the district,” said Mayor Brian Jackson of Beverly Hills.
"We reject the idea of experimenting with our educational system," a former school board member said.
The Leadership School is backed by The Opportunity Trust, which has provided startup funding for a new wave of charter schools in St. Louis even as a declining population has led to the closure of eight public schools in the city this year.
Townsend and other school leaders said the pandemic made it difficult to engage with the community and dispel misunderstandings about charter schools.
While delaying the school’s opening is “not the outcome we wanted,” said the school’s board chairman Lennel Hunter, “we can be in an even better place to open for our students in 2022.”