ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

In two weeks, the city of St. Louis will decertify its school system. The district is Missouri's largest. And as Adam Allington of member station KWMU reports, students, teachers and staff are heading into a period of uncertainty.

ADAM ALLINGTON: It's early in the morning and the students in Paul April's(ph) history class are peppering him with questions - not about their homework, but about what will happen when the state takes control of the district's 103 public schools.

Mr. PAUL APRIL (Teacher): Wait a minute. Whoa, whoa. Hang on. I know there have been some rumors about Central moving to Soldan. That's not true.

ALLINGTON: On June 15th, the state will revoke the district's accreditation and hand control of the school system to a three-member transitional board for an undetermined length of time. The CEO of the new board now heads a local homebuilding company. Most teachers say the situation reminds them of a New York-based turnaround firm the city hired five years ago to get the underperforming district back on track.

Dr. WILLIAM REBORE (Associate Dean, Department of Educational Leadership, St. Louis University): But it didn't work. They came in and they said, well, you know, we've cut $100 million. Okay. Did achievement improve? Absolutely not.

ALLINGTON: William Rebore is the associate dean of the Department of Educational Leadership at St. Louis University. He says the experience with the turnaround company reflects a popular way of thinking - that what education really needs is a little dose of corporate accountability. The notion gets little traction among teachers and administrators in St. Louis. In fact, most are downright hostile to the idea.

Current school board member Donna Jones summed up the situation this way.

Ms. DONNA JONES (School Board Member, St. Louis University): There's going to be a fight. We're going to fight all the way.

ALLINGTON: And in fact, there was a fight, or more like a riot in the state capital, Jefferson City, when student protestors disrupted a meeting of the state board of education. Before you knew it, someone shoved a police officer, who then chased the student out of the building before cuffing and maceing him in the midst of a panicked crowd.

(Soundbite of people shouting)

ALLINGTON: Some schools in St. Louis are pretty bad, with graduation rates lower than 40 percent. But it's not like every school here is underperforming. In fact, Newsweek ranks St. Louis' Metro High as the best public school in the state.

Still, when it comes to sending one's kids to a district the state says is failing, well, many parents think twice. Again, William Rebore.

Dr. REBORE: Even though, if I'm accredited today and I'm not accredited tomorrow, what has changed in that classroom? Nothing. On the other hand, there is a stigma.

ALLINGTON: One of those families weighing their future in the district is the O'Briens(ph). Hannah O'Brien is a first grader at Kennard Classical Junior Academy, a gifted and talented school on the city's south side. After school, she goes to a latchkey program until her parents pick her up.

When Hannah's father, Darren(ph) and I show up, she and several classmates have stained their faces orange with Cheeto dust.

Ms. HANNAH O'BRIEN: I thought we've just eaten a whole room full of Cheetos.

ALLINGTON: O'Brien says so far, he's happy with his daughter's education, but is concerned about her future if the district continues to slide when she moves into middle and high school.

Mr. DARREN O'BRIEN: I'm extremely anxious. I'm anxious about if we stay next year and things are really bad and get worse, then, what do we do?

ALLINGTON: Once the school district loses accreditation, its graduates are sometimes discriminated against when they apply for college. As for enrollment, just how many students, St. Louis stands to lose remains to be seen. Administrators say that makes it nearly impossible to lay out a budget and assign staff for the upcoming school year.

For NPR News, I'm Adam Allington in St. Louis.

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