Students from the Normandy District Have the Choice to Go Back to Their Home District

Normandy Schools Collaborative created a transition program for students after receiving provisional accreditation, leaving students with the decision to stay in FHSD or go back home


By Sarah Zimmerman

For junior Joshua Simmons, what was once a new district, full of different people, foreign buildings, unusual transportation and an unexplored atmosphere, has now become a familiar community, full of opportunity, friends and family. After transferring from the Normandy School District in seventh grade, Simmons has become a part of the FHN family and community. Now in eleventh grade, he has been faced once more with the decision to stay or go. To continue attending FHN or to return to Normandy.

From Phasing In to Phasing Out

During the 2013-14 school year, the Normandy School District lost accreditation, and now, four years later, the Normandy Schools Collaborative received provisional accreditation. A school can receive provisional accreditation when they have established the structures and processes necessary, but have not yet achieved the outcomes to apply for accreditation. Because Normandy Schools Collaborative met provisional accreditation standards, students from Normandy will now begin transitioning back.

“I am excited about the group and we’ve been able to cover,” Charles Pearson, Normandy Schools Collaborative superintendent, said. “I’m excited about the fact that we’ve been able to move into the provisionally accredited range in two years. You pause, and you celebrate that, and then you get really busy again.

Because the Normandy Schools Collaborative is now provisionally accredited, Normandy students must begin a new transition program to assimilate back into Normandy. Under this  program, Normandy students will have the chance to finish their level of schooling or three years of schooling in FHSD. However, after the completion of the 2017-18 school year, Normandy Schools Collaborative will no longer provide bus transportation.

“I would be devastated honestly because for me, I’m getting prepared to go into the medical field, and this school has prepared me tremendously to get to that, and I feel honored just to do that,” senior Marissa Hunt said. “In Normandy, we couldn’t really even pick our classes or pick a career path. Everyone was on one path.”

The lack of transportation has put many Normandy students in a situation where they have to determine not only whether or not to attend FHN next year, but also how they will get to school. For Simmons, it means moving out or staying home. He chose to move out. Rather than returning to Normandy for his senior year, Simmons will stay with his friend, junior Zeke Alexander, in order to continue school, football and wrestling at FHN until graduation.

“I’m glad I switched because I got a lot more opportunities out here than I would’ve there,” Simmons said. “I got the opportunity to do stuff like football and wrestling and running and Students for FHN.”

The Understanding

While some students may be devastated, Normandy Schools Collaborative has reinstated and added new programs and activities to reach that higher level of education. Not only that, but because Normandy is now provisionally accredited, Normandy students no longer have the legal right to transfer to other schools, including FHN, unless they pay tuition and adhere to specific district policies.

For the shift back to Normandy, a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) Transfer Student Transition Program was created.

The MOU clearly lies out the new plan, stating that after a Normandy student completes the 2017-18 school year, qualified students will be allowed to continue enrolling and attending school in FHSD for three subsequent academic years or until the student reaches a natural shift to the next grade span. Shifting to the next grade span would include moving from elementary school to middle school or going from middle school to high school.

“I think it will affect all of us,” Assistant Principal Jeff Blankenship said. “We’ve had students in our building that have been part of our FHN family, and some of them may not be here next year. It’s just like if a best friend moves away or something like that. There’s a piece missing if those students do choose to go elsewhere.”

Regardless, after the completion of this school year, while Normandy will still pay tuition for students attending FHSD schools for a few years, they will no longer provide buses, meaning any Normandy student wishing to attend FHSD schools will have to find transportation on their own, forcing some students to go back to Normandy next year due to lack of transportation.

Principal Andy Downs said. “For you to be able to go to school near your house is what we want for kids. I want Normandy schools and all school districts to do well and service kids well, but you do get emotionally tied to kids that go to your school and you get sad to see them go.”

Normandy students will now be able to go to a school nearby, and those who go back to attending Normandy may find a “new” school, as there are new programs and opportunities they hadn’t previously had at Normandy. For example, they not only restored and added AP classes, but they also created reading and math interventions. Among other things, now Normandy also utilizes professional development and works with their principals on their leadership.

“We are focusing on changing lives today through services and instruction, and we are educating for the future to be sure that when our children graduate,” Pearson said. “You have to problem solve, you’ve got to be able to communicate with diverse people through diverse measures and you have to be a creative thinker, so that’s what our work is for and that’s what our goal is for our students.”

The Beginning of the End for the Normandy School District

The Normandy district originally lost accreditation due to their performance on the annual performance report (APR) that the
state gives every district. APR scores are based on a variety of material including attendance, graduation rate and achievement scores. While FHSD reached 135.5/140 APR standards in 2014, the Normandy School District scored significantly lower, with only 10/140 APR points. This led the Missouri State Board of Education to rate the Normandy School District as unaccredited, giving Normandy students the option to transfer schools.

“When I switched schools, it was scary,” Hunt said. “I wanted to stay at Normandy because I had a lot of friends. I knew a lot of people. I knew a lot of teachers because they had my past sisters, so I had connections there, but then I moved here and came here for the remaining three years. I’m glad [I came here]. I got a lot of opportunities and met a lot of teachers. I learned a lot of things I would’ve never learned there and met a lot of people that I’m glad I met. We’re glad for the opportunities.”

After losing accreditation, as upheld by Missouri state law, students could choose to stay at Normandy or transfer to any other accredited school district in the same or an adjoining county. The Normandy School District also had to provide free transportation to another accredited district in an adjoining county in which their students could attend if they chose to do so. Normandy chose FHSD.

“It was my parents’ decision,” Hunt said. “They were like, ‘We don’t want this for you. We want you to have a good education and have opportunities and be able to do whatever you want to do in life.’ They were like, ‘Well, since this is a new opportunity and it’s a free opportunity, take it.’”

Once Normandy chose FHSD, families began the application process, where they had to prove residence in Normandy. The students who wished to go to FHSD were placed into the different buildings based upon how much space was available in each grade level.

Meanwhile, the cost of transferring students, now reaching $34.9 million, led to the dissolution of the Normandy School District. In its place, the Normandy Schools Collaborative was created and run by a new board, appointed by the Missouri Board of Education.
    A District Reborn

Since the first year, the number of Normandy students attending FHSD schools has decreased from 457 to 157, in part due to fewer students enrolling in the transfer program after the first year. According to Missouri law, a student is entitled to go to school within the area they live. An exception to this law is  for students who participate in a district transfer program,

Because Normandy received provisional accreditation, the statute no longer applies to Normandy students. However, the Normandy administration is optimistic for the future due to their new programs and improving scores. For example, they created a new strategic planning model to improve and implement better professional development, counseling, student services, food services, technology, building facilities, school leadership and class opportunities. Through their work, only three years later, the Normandy Schools Collaborative has brought their APR score up to 87.5/140, which is 77.5 APR points higher. This led to the Normandy Schools Collaborative receiving provisional accreditation, and, in turn, the Normandy students attending FHSD schools entering the phase out program.

“I think [Normandy Schools Collaborative] is a good place to go to school because there are some kids who want to work hard and make their school better than it was, so that’s why it’d be good for some kids to go back,” Simmons said. “They know that their school can become better and become a better community.”

While Simmons will stay at FHN, other Normandy students may leave. Similarly, while FHSD administration is excited for the strides Normandy Schools Collaborative made, Normandy students became a part of the FHSD family and those who return to Normandy Schools Collaborative will be missed.

“We will miss the students, but I’m happy that Normandy has raised their level of student achievement such that they can be provisionally accredited and that with those dollars they can continue their efforts to have a fully accredited school district and that student can attend school in their own community and get the same quality of education of what they were in Francis Howell,” Patterson said.