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Transforming Systems: How the Normandy Schools Collaborative is Using Data to Accelerate Change

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Five years ago, the Normandy School District lost its accreditation, which triggered Missouri’s transfer law allowing families to move to an accredited district.  The district leaders at the time chose a district in St. Charles county to deter families from leaving; yet, hundreds took the opportunity to access what they hoped would be a better education.  The influx of children from a predominantly poor, African American part of the region into a system that served mostly white, middle-class children led to contentious community forums that made national headlines.  National Public Radio’s This American Life created a two-part series exploring topics of desegregation and school improvement using Normandy as a case study. 

When the state released scores on its annual assessment in October, the district, now called the Normandy Schools Collaborative, was once again among the lowest-performing school systems in Missouri.  The state-appointed board, with a new chair and several new members, decided it was time to reexamine its approach and to seek help.  

Two board members attended a School Board Learning Trip that The Opportunity Trust hosted earlier in the fall and others were curious about the work happening in partnership with The Opportunity Trust and the nearby School District of University City.  A system of similar size and demographics that was one of the only districts that showed improvement in all of St. Louis County. The board invited The Opportunity Trust to help to design and facilitate a retreat with the entire school board and members of the district senior leadership team. The goal was two-fold: 1) Build a deeper and shared understanding of student outcomes in the districts, and 2) Learn from systems serving a similar population of students that were demonstrating progress.  The retreat was open to the public and held at the newly constructed library and media center at Jefferson Elementary on January 13, 2020. 

“The in-depth and robust analysis provided by The Opportunity Trust was critical to helping me to quickly build an understanding of our strengths and areas for improvement as a new member of the board,” said Normandy Schools Collaborative board member Anthony Neal.  In preparation for the discussion, The Opportunity Trust synthesized ten years of data on student and school outcomes drawing from multiple, publicly available but often hard to access data sources. Download the Normandy Schools Collaborative compendium here.

Sara Foster, a Normandy High School alumna and current President of the Normandy Schools Collaborative Board, is intent on ensuring that children growing up in the 24 municipalities that feed into the Normandy Schools Collaborative have dramatically better educational opportunity and outcomes in this new decade.  “We know from examples locally and nationally that we can create schools that provide an excellent education despite the challenges that our children face here in Normandy. The Opportunity Trust has been an essential partner in connecting us to best practice and best-in-class resources aligned to the strengths and specific needs of our community.” 

Building off of the discussion at the retreat, the district leadership and board have requested support to more deeply understand what is driving the outcomes from the perspectives of key constituents.  This deeper analysis will include surveys and focus groups with teachers, students, parents, and nonprofit partners and will be the first step in the development of a multi-year strategic plan to dramatically accelerate progress.  Sara goes on to say, “We are balancing moving with urgency and ensuring we create space for our community to shape the path forward. Our plan to accelerate progress must first and foremost be informed by students, families, and teachers and we also want to ensure we are leveraging the research and insights from the most improved schools and districts.”

The Opportunity Trust invests in educators and school systems eager to build the capacity required to make significant and measurable change.

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