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WELLSTON • A crowd of alumni and parents gathered on the sidewalk outside Normandy High School this morning, cheering for the students exiting buses and cars to begin their school year.

The adults were holding a pep rally of sorts for the 3,000 students staying in this unaccredited district, after about a quarter of their peers transferred to higher performing schools this month under a state Supreme Court ruling.

But their presence spoke to something much greater. They've always been with the district in spirit, they said, but now they were pledging to doing anything they could to help the district get back on track. Improving Normandy schools has risen to a level of urgency among them.

“This woke up the whole community,” said James McGee, mayor of Vinita Park, holding a poster board sign.

As Normandy students returned to their classrooms, a regional discussion is well underway about what can be done to support struggling schools, and how to turn around those that have failed.

That discussion will continue to play out this afternoon and Tuesday in Jefferson City, as the Missouri Board of Education holds its monthly meting. On the agenda is the transfer situation and how to better address failing schools.

At Normandy High School, Makayla Smith, a senior, walked toward the front gate of her high school with a smile on her face. Her brother, Bryce Smith, a sophomore, was behind her.

“A lot of my friends did leave, but I believe they're coming back,” Makayla said. “I am ready. We want to make a fool out of what's been said of our school.”

The district faces estimated tuition and transportation bills of $15 million as it works to comply with the state transfer statute. That law, upheld by the high court ruling in June, requires unaccredited districts to pay tuition and transportation costs of students who wish to attend schools in higher performing districts. Riverview Gardens is the other unaccredited district in the region. 

Even so, Superintendent Ty McNichols and Derrick Mitchell, the new principal of Normandy High School, both expressed optimism that things will improve this year. Mitchell said he's been working since July on an intensive plan underway to improve academics at the high school.

“I truly believe that if I help Normandy, I help the St. Louis region,” he said.