University City School District

Let them eat...zucchini?

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With the attention paid to our nation’s pathetic eating habits and the Obama’s organic garden, now seems to be a good time for the St. Louis area school districts to vastly improve their school lunches. Maplewood Richmond-Heights is in front of the “Race to the Top”, in terms of lunches anyway, as it implements its Healthy Eating with Local Produce grant in conjunction with St. Louis University.

"The kitchen staff has reshaped menus and already ordered their produce from the farmers in the Missouri Farmers' Union," superintendent Henke said. "Some of our high school students will have summer jobs helping process the foods this summer." (Gardening Teaches, Suburban Journals, 2 June 09)

This is in sharp contrast to most of the area school districts. Yes, they may offer some fresh fruit and vegetables at a food bar, a recent and welcome addition, but the overall menu is still weak.

Here’s a typical week’s menu. This one is for elementary schools from one week in May from Kirkwood school district, which uses Chartwells.

Here’s a menu from Chef Ann Cooper’s elementary menu (pdf). A daily menu might be chicken or veggie quesadilla, rice and beans, salad bar, 1% milk, fresh fruit.


Like Maplewood, Kirkwood, U City, Ferguson-Florissant, St. Charles and Clayton have farmer’s markets within their borders. Let’s step up to the plate, schools.

Making a difference

no sign
Last week, my students were discussing a topic one of them presented to the class. One said something to the effect that “they” will never change the law. Instead of focusing on using a pronoun without an antecedent, I emphasized that “they” is really the people since we elect the legislators. The class then detoured for a few minutes into a discussion on the influence that individuals can have on policy. Since the presenter had given a problem/solution speech on a subject that no one in the class had thought about, we decided that raising awareness was something individuals could do and could make a difference.

Changing state laws is doable but can be intimidating and a bit overwhelming. While the patchwork system of school districts in St. Louis County may have its drawbacks, one positive aspect is the individual districts’ responsiveness to its constituents. The “they” is a bit more personal.

yes sign
Smaller school districts may not have economies of scale, and the St. Louis County districts’ reliance on property tax within each district has created a have/have not system. However, people know the school board members, their votes for or against tax levies and bond issues have meaning, and parents can have real influence in the schools. They may not always realize it, but they can. Someone can talk to others (raise awareness), groups of parents can meet with principals and other administrators or ask for open meetings, individuals or a representative of a group can speak at a board meeting during public comment time and/or go to the media for coverage. The ultimate control is elections, either tax levies/bond issues or for board members.

Clayton’s bond issue passed by 2.6 votes. That is a close election! When the community didn’t like the Wydown/Washington University land swap idea, people let the board know. This tight election is an extension of that and will not be forgotten. I am confident that the process will be more open and transparent going forward.

University City also passed its bond issue.

Clayton Group Plans to Protest School Bond Vote
School Bond Issues Pass
Clayton School District Bond Issues Passes: Construction May Start in Fall
Election results including school board members

Longer school year?

Arne Duncan is looking at longer school days or years to help improve our country’s education and to help our students compete in a global economy in which many countries such as India and China go 20 to 30 days more a year. I’m sure students won’t like this idea, I doubt teachers will, and I’m not confident parents will either. However, I think that we should consider a longer school year.

I was at a committee meeting last night at my children’s elementary school in which the principal was telling us about a decision made to change the allocation of minutes. Every addition of time is a trade-off. Adding more minutes to the school day isn’t necessarily the best decision since young children need some time to play, but a longer year would ease the minute turf war and reduce summer retention problems.

The parents at the meeting kept asking about when the teachers were able to meet together district-wide by grade level. Teaching has traditionally been a solitary profession but is increasingly team-oriented as planning is done in groups. To facilitate this districts need to provide time for teachers to meet in various teams. Some districts do better at this than others, but all of them need to do more.

School year length ranges from 190 days for Farmington to 167 for Wheatland in Hickory County and Appleton City in St. Clair County. The St. Louis city and county districts have a narrower range from 174 to 178 with Ritenour as an outlier at 182 (good for it!). (Numbers from DESE)

The length of school day in St. Louis county and city ranged from 6.6 in Kirkwood (with quite a few districts at 6.5) to Jennings at 6.0. Jennings has a shorter day and one of the shorter years, but other districts mixed the two. For example, Clayton has one of the longer years but shorter days to allow for after school teacher meetings. Some of the districts such as University City and Bayless had a longer day at 6.5 hours but relatively shorter year at 175 days. Kirkwood, Ladue and Ritenour have students attending the most hours. Jennings and Hazelwood are at the bottom.

The number of hours taught ranged in the state from a high of 1209.5 (Centerville in Reynolds County) to 1014.5 (Calhoun in Henry County).

I predict that the we don’t have a significant change in the next couple of years but a quickening of the incremental pace we’ve been having in the increase of time as pressures mount on districts to improve. The state will need to come in and establish minimums for the rural areas that don’t face the same competition.