Allison Davis
Often, the best way to solve a problem is to try a new strategy. In 2011, Saint Louis Public Schools (SLPS) Superintendent Kelvin Adams announced that the district would offer a “portfolio of schools” to improve its system. Last week, the district announced that Adams and SLPS are making good on that promise. SLPS has formed a unique partnership with KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program) St. Louis, a high-performing, established charter school. With KIPP, SLPS will be adding a blue chip to the district’s portfolio of schools.

Previously, KIPP and SLPS operated as separate districts, or Local Education Agencies (LEA), with separate funding, buildings, and evaluations. Under the new partnership, KIPP will get access to vacant SLPS buildings; in exchange, KIPP’s student achievement results will be counted as part of SLPS’s as if they are one district. Unfortunately, Missouri does not evaluate public schools individually; evaluations are conducted by district. Therefore, KIPP’s high achievement scores will likely inflate SLPS’s evaluation and buoy underperforming public schools. Nevertheless, the new partnership between SLPS and KIPP should be applauded because it marks a step forward in how Saint Louis operates its school system.

In the book The Urban School System of the Future: Applying the Principles and Lessons of Chartering, Andy Smarick writes:
The world increasingly, and accurately, thinks of a city’s K-12 education system as a collection of diverse schools, not a single, dominant administrative unit. This is the reason why the term “portfolio of schools” has become a staple of the education lexicon. It is also the reason why more and more leaders are drawing a distinction between a “school system” and a “system of schools.”

The portfolio model acknowledges that there is no one-best way to educate kids. The new partnership between KIPP and SLPS recognizes that charter schools and traditional public schools can cooperatively co-exist. When they do, everyone wins. I hope this new relationship between the district and charter schools will be the first of many. By adding quality charter operators to its portfolio of schools, Saint Louis can redesign its educational landscape and continue to improve the “system of schools.”

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Allison Davis