Category Archives: Uncategorized

Stability During A Surreal Spring Break

When class was dismissed on Friday, March 13, SLPS students were ready for Spring Break, but they didn’t expect so much bonus vacation time!  In the days since, the St. Louis community and people across the world have endured increasing disruptions to daily life as more news unfolds surrounding the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

On March 16th, the St. Louis Board of Education held an emergency meeting via conference call, in compliance with Missouri Sunshine Law, and the break was extended until April 3rd, 2020.  SLPS and other St. Louis schools didn’t miss a beat in ensuring food access during uncertain times, providing free meals for students and $1 meals for adults at sites across the city.  By March 19th, a community partner stepped up to cover the cost of adult meals, so that all families are now able to obtain no-cost food provisions, no questions asked, at any school site across the City.

As of 6:00pm today, a Stay-At-Home Order took effect for the City of St. Louis, as announced by Mayor Lyda Krewson this weekend. This stay-at-home order directs all St. Louisans to remain in their places of residence unless obtaining necessary medical/grocery/veterinary supplies, conducting critical government business, or reporting to a job considered an essential service. If you must go outside or tend to necessary errands, please maintain a distance of at least 6 feet from your fellow humans and animals.

Schools will now remain closed until April 22nd, 2020. 

The risks and disruptions to our regular routines are very real. Below are some resources to help our community maintain stability and access to basic needs during quarantine. And maybe we can even have a little fun while we’re in forced proximity with our loved ones. As for me, I’ve just been catching up on school board work, stacking objects on my cat, Major, and tomorrow I’m having a virtual breakfast with otters!


If you’re worried, have any questions, or if you just get bored, feel free to send me a text or give me a call at 314.437.3111. Email me at Natalie.Vowell@slps.org.

Stay home. Stay safe, smart, smiling, and always learning!

  • SOCIAL/EMOTIONAL SUPPORT HOTLINE
    The District has established a direct hotline for students and parents requiring social and emotional support. The hotline can be accessed by calling 314-345-6900 or via email at studentservices@slps.org.
  • PAY FOR SLPS STAFF IS EXPECTED TO CONTINUE
    The St. Louis Board of Education immeasurably appreciates our teachers, administrators, and staff who have been working round the clock to keep our schools and students safe.
  • FREE MEALS FOR STUDENTS AND ADULTS
    Meals are available free of charge for all St. Louis families, regardless of whether their children attend public, private, or charter schools. Here is a map of locations. These meals are “grab-and-go,” meaning students cannot stay at the school to eat them because of social distancing guidelines issued by state and local health agencies. For details on meal pickup and schedules, please visit https://www.slps.org/meals. UPDATE: in response to community requests, we have now added Oak Hill and Lexington Elementary as distribution sites.
  • MAP TESTS CANCELLED FOR 2019/2020 SCHOOL YEAR
    Missouri has cancelled required statewide assessments for the remainder the school year. This includes Grade-Level, End-of-Course and Alternate assessments. The Offices of College and Career Readiness (OCCR) and Quality Schools (OQS) will share more information and updates as soon as they become available. Refer to the DESE-related COVID-19 webpage for links to useful information.  If you have questions about assessment, send them to assessment@dese.mo.gov or call DESE at 573-751-3545.
  • METRO BUS FARE WAIVED
    Passengers may travel on MetroBus and Call-A-Ride free of charge through March 31. (Fares will not be waived for MetroLink travel.) Customers using all other fare types can also refrain from using the farebox. This policy will be effective beginning March 21 and continuing through March 31.  All MetroBus passengers will be required to board and exit buses using the rear doors, except in cases where passengers require an accessible entrance at the front of the bus. Buses are running less frequently, so be sure to check routes and schedules.
  • EXPANDED/EXTENDED FOOD STAMP AID
    The Department of Social Services Family Support Division will extend Food Stamp/SNAP certification periods by six months for those re-certifications coming due in March, April and May. This action prevents Food Stamp benefits from ending during the COVID-19 pandemic. Applications for food assistance are being accepted online. More information and instructions available in this document.
  • ST. LOUIS QUARANTINE SUPPORT
    St. Louis volunteers have formed a new group, St. Louis Quarantine Support, and are coming together to take care of our at-risk population by helping out with every day errands like delivering groceries, picking up prescriptions, providing rides to the doctor, or walking dogs. Request assistance from with this short form. You can also volunteer your time or donate a few dollars if you’re able. Please note, this is a group of private citizens, not officially organized or endorsed by the St. Louis Board of Education or the City of St. Louis.
  • SUPPORT FOR STAFF
    Staff who are in need of social or emotional support are encouraged to access the free, confidential Employee Assistance Program (EAP) through United HealthCare via phone, 1-800-622-7276, or online: www.liveandworkwell.com. Additionally, UHC provides 24/7 phone or video virtual visits with a doctor ($0 co-pay):  www.uhc.com/virtualvisits.
  • UPS/FEDEX NOT REQUIRING SIGNATURES
    UPS and FedEx both have decided to suspend signatures on packages to minimize contamination and personal contact. You can manage your deliveries online
  • AMAZON FREE STREAMING OF KIDS’ CONTENT
    You don’t need to be an Amazon Prime member to access family friendly movies and television. Customers only need to log in or create a free Amazon.com account to enjoy free family programming.
  • SLPS OFFERS “KEEP ON LEARNING”
    While Spring Break is rejuvenating for our young scholars, this unexpected extended school closure period may disrupt the planned flow of learning. SLPS has created “Keep On Learning”, a resource for students and families while our kids are out of school. Visit www.slps.org/keeponlearning for interesting age-appropriate educational materials students might not have a chance to experience in the classroom.
  • DIGITAL SERVICES FROM ST. LOUIS PUBLIC LIBRARY
    Your neighborhood library branch may be closed, but you can still access a wealth of information and entertainment without leaving the house. The St. Louis Public Library offers eBooks, audiobooks, and online learning opportunities for all ages. The Library also live streams story time via their Facebook page. All St. Louis Public Library services are free of charge for any St. Louis Public Library cardholder. If you don’t have a library card, you can obtain an eCard online, at no cost.
  • TAKE A VIRTUAL MUSEUM TOUR
    Many museums are offering virtual tours online. Here’s a list of world-class museums you can visit without getting off the couch.
  • ST. LOUIS AQUARIUM EXPLORATION
    The St. Louis Aquarium is hosting live sessions of its exhibits via their Facebook page.
  • FREE INTERNET
    We understand not everyone has access to internet service or WiFi hotspots. Any parent of a child who does not have access to the internet can contact Charter/Spectrum at 844-488-8395 to receive free internet access for 60 days. This offer is for households with K-12 or college students.
  • OTHER RESOURCES
    If there are other resources or services you require please check https://www.slps.org/resources or give me a call.

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.