When the state of Misaouri took control of the struggling, segregated school district of Normandy, it allowed students to escape to other districts and promised to transform what was left of the Normandy district. The takeover has been a flop.



Cameron Hensley is an honors student at Normandy High School with plans for college. But this year his school quit offering honors courses. His physics teacher hasn’t planned a lesson since January. His AP English class is taught by an instructor not certified to teach it.


The first-period English class is held in a science lab because the room across the hall smells like mildew and lacks adequate air conditioning. Stools sit upside down on the lab tables.


On a recent day, Hensley looked at an assigned worksheet. He wrote “positive” or “negative” beside 15 statements, depending on their connotation. “This is pretty easy,” he mumbled.


When Missouri education officials took over the troubled Normandy School District last summer, they vowed to help its 3,600 students become more college- and career-ready. About a quarter of the enrollment had already left for better schools under the controversial Missouri school transfer law, extracting millions of dollars from Normandy in the form of tuition payments to more affluent districts.


Even so, state education officials promised a new dawn in the district, with new leaders, better faculty and an unprecedented degree of attention from their department in Jefferson City.


But Hensley’s experience suggests things have gotten worse for many students who remain in Normandy schools.


Hensley, 18, began his senior year to find his favorite teachers gone. Electives such as business classes and personal finance were no longer offered.


He has written no papers or essays since fall, he said, aside from scholarship applications. He started reading a novel that the class never finished. Partly because of a lack of electives, he ended up taking fashion design first semester. He has no books to take home. He’s rarely assigned homework.


His one challenging class is precalculus.


“Last school year I was learning, progressing,” Hensley said. “This school year, I can honestly say I haven’t learned much of anything.”