Community leaders in the Normandy Schools Collaborative are urging residents to reject two propositions on Tuesday’s ballot because of concerns about the district’s leadership, including the lack of credentials of Superintendent Marcus Robinson.
“We will not continue to support inept leadership,” said St. Louis County Council Chairwoman Rita Heard Days, a former Normandy School Board member, at a news conference Tuesday outside district headquarters.
Proposition V is a $26.5 million bond issue that would not increase taxes. Proposition T would raise the property tax ceiling by 58 cents for every $100 of assessed value, which would amount to an additional $110 a year for the owner of a $100,000 home. Revenue would mostly be earmarked for improvements to Normandy High School.
Civic leaders don’t trust the current district leadership to manage the money transparently or effectively, said several speakers Tuesday, including former county Councilwoman Hazel Erby. The news conference was organized by the 24:1 Municipal Partnership.
President Sara Foster and Vice President Tony Neal of the school district’s state-appointed Joint Executive Governing Board are undermining efforts to return the district to full accreditation with elected board members, Erby said.
Hiring Robinson from The Opportunity Trust, which is supporting a charter school opening in the fall in Normandy, was a “covert attempt to dismantle the district” and turn it over to privately operated charter schools, Erby said. “We are certain that it never would have happened in an affluent district.”
Robinson was a founding board member of the charter, The Leadership School, but said he stopped working on the project when he was hired at Normandy. The district has received $635,000 from The Opportunity Trust in the past two years to support its strategic plan, which doesn’t include charter schools, officials said.
It's a "question of paperwork," Marcus Robinson said.
The board hired Robinson a year ago at a salary of $215,000 for the first year of a three-year contract. He held no state education credentials. Normandy, which has been provisionally accredited since 2017, cannot attain full accreditation without a state-certified superintendent.
Robinson obtained a substitute teaching credential in January at the urging of the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
The district’s announcement of Robinson’s hiring said he would complete a doctorate degree from Columbia University in December 2020. The pandemic delayed his studies, Robinson said, and he will complete the degree and the requirements for superintendent certification, which include a teaching certificate, by the end of the summer.
Robinson has not been enrolled at Columbia since the spring of 2018, according to the National Student Clearinghouse. Doctoral candidates must be continuously enrolled until they complete their degree, according to the university’s policies.
“Marcus Robinson is more than qualified to lead the district,” reads a statement from Normandy officials in response to Tuesday’s news conference. “To be clear, we were well aware that Mr. Robinson would need to acquire his superintendent certification, which he will acquire in the coming months.”
The state education department has not been notified of Robinson’s pathway nor timeline to a superintendent certificate, according to a spokeswoman. A discussion of the Normandy situation is on the state board’s April 13 agenda, she said.
Robinson was hired on the strength of his presentation to the board and his vision to implement the district’s strategic plan, said Foster, president of the state-appointed board. His experience includes leading the turnaround of the Tindley charter school network in Indianapolis. Robinson stepped down from Tindley in 2016 after facing criticism for spending decisions and high rates of student expulsions. At the time, Robinson said he was leaving to focus on completing his doctorate, according to media reports.
Foster and board vice president Neal stand behind Robinson, saying previous superintendents with proper credentials did not oversee significant improvements in student outcomes. Under Robinson, the percentage of Normandy students in kindergarten through eighth grade who read at grade level increased to 27% from 24% between early fall and January, district officials said. Proficiency in math rose to 18% from 14%, they said.
“We have not seen improvement like this in years. We are optimistic about the future of Normandy,” reads the district’s statement.