Up until now, the only districts with charters in Missouri were St. Louis and Kansas City, the state’s two biggest districts. But the state board just granted a charter for a new school in the Normandy district, one of the state’s poorest and lowest performing.

The state board of education approved the charter with six votes in favor, one against, and one abstention.

Normandy lost its state accreditation in 2012, triggering a student transfer law that bled it of funding and students. The state school board bumped the district up to provisional accreditation in 2017. Academics have improved in recent years but the district still struggles. Less than half of third-graders passed state math and reading assessments in 2019. Its high school graduation rate in May was 69%.

Because of the district’s obstacles, state board member Pamela Westbrooks-Hodge, who previously served on Normandy’s governing board, voted against the charter.

“You can’t morally advance options and choice for one group by taking away the rights and choice of another,” she said...

Some elected leaders who represent the towns that make up the Normandy school district oppose this new charter, arguing all available resources should be poured into improving the district’s struggling schools.

Normandy’s school board is also skeptical of the encroaching school. Townsend went before the board Monday to offer partnership opportunities, but board member Ronald Roberts said the school’s track record doesn’t give him confidence for the future.

“It sounds like the community engagement process was disjointed, for lack of a better term, and there were missed opportunities for collaboration,” he said.

Other members called Townsend an outsider because she grew up in Chicago. She’s lived and taught in the St. Louis area for 18 years, including some in Normandy. She met with area parents and held virtual sessions this year to promote the new school.

Normandy educates children from 24 municipalities in near-north St. Louis County. Its enrollment has been dwindling for the past two decades, down to about 3,000 students from nearly 5,900 in 1991.

The Leadership School will start with 125 children in kindergarten through second grade with plans to grow a grade each year until hitting 450 students through eighth grade. The location of the school has not been determined. The Special School District will provide special education services, as it does for all public schools in St. Louis County.

No one suggests that the charter will somehow improve the education available for the 3,000 students in the district. The logic is that providing a charter for 450 students while abandoning the other 2,550 students is a good deal.