ST. LOUIS • For decades, St. Louis Public Schools has closed dozens of school buildings as thousands of students left the district for suburban and charter schools.
Now the district will reverse that pattern. Up to six schools could open this fall to absorb up to 3,800 children now attending the Imagine charter schools slated to close next month.
Superintendent Kelvin Adams told the district's Special Administrative Board Thursday that the number of additional schools needed this August will be determined by demand, and the extent of that demand may not be fully realized until later this summer.
"We have been working with the former Imagine board members — the local board members — to talk about the ideas you see here and to work with them on a strategy on acclimating the students into our schools," Adams said.
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Already, nearly 800 Imagine students have enrolled in the St. Louis school system since April 17, when the Missouri Board of Education voted to close all six of the Imagine charter schools for academic failure. Of those students, about 580 have enrolled in magnet or choice schools. However, the district began accepting large numbers of transfers from the Imagine schools in January, when about 350 Imagine students enrolled in city schools after an announcement came that two of the Imagine schools would close.
School district officials have been working for months on plans to address the potential enrollment boom the district could experience if even half the students attending Imagine were to transfer to city public schools this fall. Charter schools are public schools that operate independently of school districts and have been draining the St. Louis system of students for more than a decade.
The district's transportation department has been meeting weekly about how many extra buses and routes might be needed. Adams expects to hire up to 218 certified teachers and up to six new principals.
Though an influx of students is one that district officials say they've wanted for years, it could put the district in a bind if too many students wait until the last minute to enroll.
"We're talking there again about costs to this school district," said Richard Gaines, a member of the Special Administrative Board.
Most of the buildings that may reopen are already being used by the district for alternative programs that could be moved elsewhere — such as the Fresh Start program to help dropouts earn high school diplomas in the Meda P. Washington building on South Vandeventer Avenue. That building could become an elementary school for 300 children. The program would move to Beaumont High School, which would also accommodate other alternative education programs that may need to relocate.
Madison school on South Seventh Street also could reopen as an elementary school; Dunbar/Columbia in the JeffVanderLou neighborhood could be consolidated into one elementary school; Stevens on North Whittier Street could become a middle school, and the building holding Northwest High School on Riverview Drive could share space with a second high school that would replace Imagine College Prep Academy.
"We're hearing the high school really wants to stay together," Adams said. "The camaraderie, the culture have been built."
The only vacant building that would reopen is the Stowe school on Lotus Avenue. Making the repairs needed to reopen the building would cost the district an estimated $1.1 million.