School: Riverview Gardens School District
School District: Riverview Gardens School District
City, State: St. Louis, Missouri
About the Nominee: Dr. Scott Spurgeon was nominated by a colleague, Tamara Granger. Dr. Spurgeon has been working in education for over 25 years. He spent the greater part of a very successful educational leadership career in the “mainstream” of public education. The beginning of Dr. Spurgeon's career suggested he was somewhat of a “prodigy”. He demonstrated the seemingly innate gifts of an analytical mind for data, the dissection of the theoretical frameworks of pedagogy and its impact on the cognitive webs of learning. What was more uncanny was his natural ease with translating those deep understandings of the systems and the people he led through developing deep-rooted cultural norms. His ability to lead buy-in and group genius appeared relational in a way that is usually seen in motivational speakers or a few faith-based leaders of today’s mega-organizations.
In 2013, Riverview Gardens was struggling academically. That's when Dr. Spurgeon stepped in. He brought all of the knowledge and skill of his 18 years of educational leadership, as well as a proven track record of school and district success. Could this gifted and genuinely personable educator successfully “turn the ship” around in Riverview Gardens? With a pace not yet chronicled anywhere else in the nation’s story of urban transformation, and with a strategic plan that is both simple, yet deliberately intentional, Dr. Spurgeon set a foundation of successful urban transformation.
Even as Dr. Spurgeon led Riverview Gardens to a synchronized paddle to “turn the ship”, he could not disassociate his district’s work from the impact of unexpected student transfer legislation. Additionally, Mike Brown's death and the subsequent aftermath occurred within the district's boundaries, which added to the impact. He forever solidified a partnership with the community when Riverview Gardens, whose attendance site contains the Canfield apartments, became a dependable provider of resources, food banks and support services. These services not only included the district’s local health and social service partners, but the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Non-Violence Education, as well.
Dr. Spurgeon recognized the needs of his district did not mean a “give me,” an excuse or a “hand out,” but rather an equalization of resources, access and the “playing field.” Dr. Spurgeon's charges to his staff were to eradicate barriers to success. When perceptual data indicated a barrier to school attendance was the absence of clean clothing or transportation issues, his remedy was simple. He asked his team members to solidify meaningful connections with external partnerships. By the end of his third year, Riverview Gardens' partnership with Whirlpool had put washers and dryers in eleven of the district's thirteen schools. The Assistance League provided school uniforms and filled book bags for every child. Lastly, the Children’s Education Service Fund had placed a wealth of wrap-around community services and support personnel at every school site.
Dr. Spurgeon’s theory was that if anything served as a barrier to student success, such as attendance, the district should “equalize it, and get it done. Fair enough?” The data over his first three years tells that story:
-The attendance rate increased from 69.6% in 2012-13 to 84.2% 2015-16 -Disciplinary incidents have decreased by 58% reduction -The graduation rate increased from 69% in 2012-13 to 85.2% in 15-16. -The district's report card received 111 points in 2015 and 104 points in 2016, enough to earn accreditation.
Dr. Spurgeon's greatest impact, however, has been the story as it comes off the paper. Graduating seniors in 2016 received more than $4.1 million in college scholarships, an increase of more than $1.5 million in three years. Due to his work, Dr. Spurgeon received the prestigious NAACP Legacy Award in 2016, and the 2016 East/West Gateway Outstanding Local Achievement Award for Exemplary Accomplishment.
Few-to-none have done the same amount of work facing the same variables, with the same steadfast grace and humility, and certainly not with the same promise of success as Dr. Spurgeon. His uncompromising conviction in regaining accreditation became a reality when the Missouri State Board of Education voted unanimously to provisionally accredit Riverview Gardens, effective January 4, 2017. This achievement is nothing short of spectacular and speaks to Dr. Spurgeon's work as a LifeChanger in his community!