The leaders of the Normandy Schools Collaborative have lost the trust of their community and could face removal within weeks, state education officials said Tuesday.
“This is not just disagreement with some decisions, this is a belief that the district leadership is not acting in the best interest of the community,” said Pamela Westbrooks-Hodge, a member of the Missouri State Board of Education, at its monthly meeting in Jefferson City. “We need to deal with the lack of trust, and without trust you cannot govern.”
Teachers and community leaders believe Sara Foster and Tony Neal, president and vice president, respectively, of the Normandy school district’s Joint Executive Governing Board, are undermining efforts to return the district to full accreditation, according to letters sent to the state board.
State board members agreed to a special meeting in the next few weeks to change the makeup of the Normandy board, either by adding or removing members.
“It would be a mistake to ignore the wishes of the community to remove the president and vice president,” said Westbrooks-Hodge, a 1987 graduate of Normandy High School and former president of the district’s board.
The concerns from the community center around Superintendent Marcus Robinson, who lacks state credentials and was a founding board member of a charter school that will open in Normandy in the fall.
The Normandy board hired Robinson a year ago at a salary of $215,000 for the first year of a three-year contract. The school district, which has been provisionally accredited since 2017, cannot attain full accreditation without a state-certified superintendent.
An uncertified superintendent is “unacceptable” in part because the local teachers’ union has “fought for years to ensure that all students are educated under highly qualified and certified educators in both the classroom and at the administrative level,” according to a statement from the Normandy National Education Association.
“Now there is the appearance of a different standard for the individual charged with leading and ensuring the success of the overall district. Thus, by allowing Mr. Robinson to meet a lower standard than those who work every day with the students of NSC creates an atmosphere of mistrust and uncertainty for our community,” the statement says.
Robinson’s experience at a charter school network in Indianapolis is more important than his lack of certification, Foster said in a recent statement.
Robinson’s “focus on accountability, his vision for implementing our strategic plan and impressive academic credentials earned our confidence. Some have questioned his ‘certification’ … we do not. When he was hired we understood he needed to complete this requirement, and he will,” Foster said.
After Tuesday’s state board meeting, Robinson released a statement saying he was “encouraged by their deep concern for the success of our students and their desire to be helpful without creating tremendous disruption to the great work that has been started in the district through our ambitious strategic plan.”
State education officials agreed Tuesday that Normandy schools should be returned to local control as soon as possible, with a goal of a board member election in April 2022. The state board is also likely to revisit the governance structure of Riverview Gardens School District, which has been led by a state-appointed board of three members since 2010.
State Education Commissioner Margie Vandeven said the conflict in Normandy goes beyond disgruntled community members.
Earlier this month, voters rejected one ballot measure and barely approved another to raise money for Normandy schools, after elected officials from north St. Louis County had urged residents to reject both issues.
“This is much deeper,” she said. “People have absolutely expressed a concern about the trust level that I don’t know we will be able to overcome, and who gets hurt is the kids.”
Vandeven said she worries that only 20% of Normandy’s students are learning in-person this spring.
Community leaders said they will continue to protest until the superintendent and two top board members are removed.
“This wouldn’t be acceptable in an affluent school district,” said LaTricia Clark of the St. Louis County NAACP. “Our community deserves better. Our students deserve better.”