SLPS 2020 Legislative Agenda

On November 12, 2019, the St. Louis City Board of Education approved our Legislative Agenda for the 2020 legislative session.  It was important to me that we add specific language surrounding the issue of tax abatement/TIF reform, stopping the expansion of charter schools (unless sponsored by the local public school district), and–most critically–advocating for equitable real estate taxes to reduce homelessness among our students and families.

The full document, which includes all of our policy stances, can be viewed here: http://www.votevowell.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/2020-SLPS-Legislative-Agenda.pdf

Back To School 2019

This week, Superintendent Dr. Kelvin Adams and I were invited to join host Shirley Washington on The Pulse of St. Louis to inform students and families about our preparations for their return to school. It is essential to reach our community through as many channels possible. We want to make sure everyone is fully informed on how to enroll in SLPS, what to expect from this year’s educational programs, new neighborhood safety partnerships, and the first school year in 13 years with an elected school board. We’re excited for a new year full of many firsts.

Another First For SLPS

An editorial for The St. Louis American by Natalie Vowell

Since its inception in 1838, the Saint Louis Public School District developed a reputation for forward-thinking, inclusive approaches to education. In 1873, we became the first district to offer public kindergarten; in 1875, we opened the first high school west of the Mississippi River for African American students; in the early 1900’s, we engineered the first open-air and accessible schools to ensure that no child affected by disease or physiological disadvantage was bereft of a chance at a quality education. 

St. Louis City is currently writing an unprecedented education comeback story.  On July 1, 2019, the St. Louis Board of Education made history by regaining elected control of our district after state intervention revoked the Board’s authority over a decade ago.  The 2007 loss of accreditation led to the installation of an appointed Special Administrative Board which would govern SLPS for the next 12 years. On April 16, 2019, the State Board of Education voted to restore governance to the duly elected Board of Education. We are now engaged in a high-stakes, high-reward endeavor to rebuild trust in our community, re-empower St. Louis citizens, and equitably manage a $400 million budget to effect positive change in the lives of over 20,000 SLPS students.  Presently, disenfranchised districts across the nation are looking to St. Louis as a model, and once again we are reclaiming our legacy of “firsts”.

As we resume governance, it is important to understand what a school board does and does not do; in fact, that was the first challenge the Board of Education itself had to confront.  The Board’s sole responsibilities are setting the District’s goals, vision, and hiring a superintendent who will carry out the procedures necessary to meet those expectations.  The Board should not directly manage district affairs but instead evaluate the superintendent in relation to student achievement and equitable outcomes. That is how the SAB has operated, and the Board of Education intends to support Superintendent Dr. Kelvin Adams and continue to build and improve upon that progress.

It is time to jettison the too-familiar, tired mention of the “dysfunction” inherent to an elected school board.  Grievously underemphasized have been the qualities of an effective board. The governance team driving SLPS’s narrative out of the past and into the future is comprised of parents, nonprofit professionals, former teachers and administrators, business executives, community leaders, volunteers, but﹘most importantly﹘seven people, chosen by the voters of St. Louis, who have exemplified dedication to serving the students of SLPS.

Sacrificing many nights and weekends over the past year through extensive training via collaboration with the National School Boards’ Association, the Missouri School Boards’ Association, the Special Administrative Board, the Superintendent and SLPS staff, the Board is prepared to break new ground at our first meeting as a governing body on July 9th.  We hope to see you, our rightful constituents, there to hold us accountable with great expectations and help pave the way for new milestones in public education.

The meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m. on July 9th, at Saint Louis Public Schools District Office, 801 N. 11th Street, St. Louis MO, 63101.

Mastering School Board Governance

Less than two years into my term, I am proud to have earned my Master Certification from the Missouri School Boards’ Association on November 01, 2018. As we move toward regaining governance, I believe it is important to learn essential skills and build a strong body of knowledge to draw upon, to ensure a smooth transition. Achievement awards will be presented at the MSBA Annual Leadership Summit in June 2019.

Updated to include: conference photos and coverage from the St. Louis American.

Resolution on School Board Governance

Public schools are stronger with public input, and we must preserve democracy in education.  In November, I composed my first ever resolution for the Board of Education.  At a special session on November 28th, 2017, the Board voted unanimously, with a minor edit, to pass the resolution.  We have an excellent team this year, and all of us are still working to serve the students and citizens of St. Louis City.  You may view our official stance on SLPS governance on the District website or view/download the PDF here.

 

 

Thank you for your continued support.

Integrity of Data from #SLPSgovernance Online Survey

Today, I made phone call to Canada regarding St. Louis Public Schools.

The #SLPSgovernance online survey (more info here), in addition to default accepting multiple submissions from the same person or device, lacks a mechanism for verifying a survey respondent’s authenticity through any form of email, Google, or Facebook account-linking.

Upon contacting Tiffany, Support Agent for MetroQuest, the Vancouver-based company handling the SLPS Governance online survey, I learned some troubling technical details about the data collection and analysis methods.

Instead of implementing backend safeguards to ensure unique data is tied to a specific respondent, the final output is a raw data set exported to an Excel file which is to be manually sorted by Vector Communications‘ data management team, comprised of two individuals.

While IP addresses and timestamps for each entry are included in this Excel output file, the data management team possess unilateral authority for pruning all captured data. These individuals may sort entries by IP address, timestamp, email address, or any other data field, including survey answers, when determining how many duplicate survey submissions to strike or retain for the final data set presented to the Task Force (who will make a recommendation to the SAB on the future of SLPS governance structure).

Vector Communications’ official reason for not requiring email addresses is that the survey yields more participation because, in their experience, requiring an email address causes more people to “give up” at this final step and users do not complete/submit the survey.

“I believe the integrity of this process is further compromised because not only does it allow for manipulation of data, it does not account for our most marginalized citizens. Households who share computers and mobile devices, or people who use public library or school computers, may not necessarily have their opinions counted–meanwhile special interest organizations, particularly those with access to large networks of various IP addresses, may flood the results with numerous submissions. In short, there is excessive room for human error in both the survey response process and data handling.”

Natalie Vowell
Former Computer Lab Manager, University of Arkansas
Founder, Executive Director, Project Raise The Roof
Member, St. Louis City Board of Education

________________

“The poll in question accepts data without regard to the source. Meaning the data is not checked for duplicates, or anything that indicates multiple submissions from one user.

What’s more troubling, in my opinion, is any translation of the data after this point is left to an individual or group to determine its veracity. This means the data obtained will be presented in a way determined by that individual or group, which may not necessarily represent the raw data collected; regardless if the data is properly collected or not.”

Walter Holley
Applications Developer
SLPS Graduate, Gateway Institute of Technology, Class of 2001
Walnut Park West Native

________________

“There are steps that can be taken to prevent manipulation of an internet poll by a dedicated or interested actor/party. None of those steps seem to have been taken here. No internet poll is completely free from manipulation, but it is possible to make it non-trivial to inflate results, by requiring authentication (even third-party authentication, like log in with Google or Facebook) or having email validation with followup email confirmation.

Again, none of that has been done here. It is therefore both trivially easy to manipulate this poll either manually or automatically (with a simple script) and difficult to track any such manipulation (unless there is cookie information saved, or server-side IP logging, or some other means of at least rudimentarily de-duplicating multiple submissions).

Owing to these flaws, the information obtained from this survey should not be used for any official recommendations.”

Josh Smith
Solutions Engineer, Merkle, Inc.
SLPS Graduate, Gateway Institute of Technology, Class of 2000
Resident, Parent, St. Louis City

 

 

The best way to make it more difficult to skew the outcome of the SAB’s governance recommendation process is to complete the online survey.  The survey takes less than five minutes, but allows for long answer comments if you would like to include further opinions.  Survey closes at midnight on November 28th, 2017.

June 2017 Board Officer Elections

At our June 13 meeting, we held our board officer elections.  I’m honored by the literal vote of confidence I received from my fellow board members who unanimously elected me as Secretary of the Board.  I am proud to serve as the newest member of our board’s leadership team alongside President Susan Jones and Vice President Katherine Wessling who were both unanimously elected to a second term in their positions.  I am committed to transparency, accuracy, accessibility and accountability, and I look forward to remaining St. Louis City’s most eagerly Sunshine Law compliant elected official.