Shearwater High School, a public charter school geared toward dropouts and at-risk youth in St. Louis, is closing its doors after three years in operation, shedding light on the obstacles facing the most vulnerable students and the educators trying to help them graduate.
"Young people are continuing to hemorrhage out of our public-school system at an alarming rate," Stephanie Krauss, president and CEO of Shearwater Education Foundation, tells Daily RFT. "We have to figure this out."
Krauss, whose efforts RFT chronicled in a 2009 cover story on the dropout crisis in St. Louis, says that the model was just not working, and it is time to reevaluate.
Krauss says she is committed now to overseeing a smooth closure and transition for the seventeen students currently enrolled. From there, she will direct her energy to studying what went wrong and what her foundation can do moving forward to develop a program that will better accomplish the mission of reengaging disconnected youth back into school -- and leading them to graduation.
"I'm really grieved that we are still, in this community, in a place where students that want to be in school who aren't in school have such a dearth of options," she says. "I am more committed than ever to the mission and the vision."
Krauss continues, "I believe we'll have to pull out in order to push in."
The school opened in 2010 and held its first graduation in 2012.
Now, one year later, Shearwater High is voluntarily terminating its charter contract with Saint Louis University, its state-authorized sponsor, because the school was not able to establish the necessary conditions to get a majority of students on track to graduate and prepared for the workforce.
Shearwater High opened on the campus of Ranken Technical College in 2010 and took in city students ages 17 through 21 who were considered "at risk" of dropping out.
Saint Louis University placed the school on "probation" earlier this year, and Shearwater had launched a so-called "turnaround" initiative designed to address some of its challenges. That involved a shift from an alternative high school model to an "adult learning" focus, which came with new disciplinary and academic expectations, Krauss explains.
But it was not enough.
The school graduated a total of ten students, she says, pointing out that an overwhelming majority of students were well below grade level. At one point 90 percent of students were performing at elementary and middle school levels.
"We have this group of kids that want to be in school...and some of them were making pretty significant gains," she says.
"The charter model may not be the best model," for her aims, Krauss says, noting that she hopes to continue partnering with SLU moving forward even if the formal contract will end.
In a statement, SLU, which sponsors two other public charter schools, says, "While Shearwater's closure after three years is disappointing, it fulfills the intent of charter schools to attempt significant innovation in K-12 education and to be held directly accountable for their performance."
Continue for more from Stephanie Krauss and for the full statements about the closure.