Charter Schools Are Killing Saint Louis Public. The City Is Nailing The Coffin Shut.

Lexi Perez Lane
6 min readJan 12, 2021
Monroe Elementary School

Tonight, the Saint Louis Public Schools Board of Education will vote on whether or not to permanently close 11 schools.

This is a bullet some schools have dodged for a while now. The superintendent originally intended to close some schools several years ago. The closures were pushed on two years in a row, first due to parent and community pushback, and last year due to COVID-19.

My first year in the district, I was at Ashland Elementary School in North City, which turned into a consortium school. I left due to this transition and moved to Monroe.

I started a basketball team. I taught 3rd grade. I teach 2nd now, which is the grade I taught when I started in the district.

When we were told on December 1st, only a few hours before the general public, that our school was one of the 11 listed for closure, we were in shock. Our staff is a dedicated and hard-working staff with many years of seniority throughout the school.

I recently gave a speech to the board of aldermen where I discussed the ways in which I had helped start a campaign to save the school. My school in particular is not what I want to focus on here, but rather, the charter school that opened next door.

The Charter Next Door

Kairos Academies opened its doors in 2019, my first year at Monroe. We saw a decline in 6th graders, as Kairos’ only grade was indeed 6th grade. The placement of this school nearby was what I found most fascinating. I have never been in a city or place that would allow a charter school to open up less than 1000 feet away from a city public school.

But Kairos did.

Kairos is an experimental charter school where students use Chromebooks and work online all day. They call teachers by their first names and there are no administrators, but all roles are “blurred” and the adults share powers.

It is also co-founded by Jack Krewson, Lyda Krewson’s son.

Jack and his co-founder, Gavin Schiffres only have 2 years of teaching experience through Teach For America, but that isn’t the most upsetting part of this story.

Half of charters in Saint Louis close due to academic or financial failure. This is why I have found it so interesting to watch white, former educators and politicians alike sponsor and co-sign new charters to open up all over a city they are fleetingly invested in, and/or do not teach or send their children to school in.

It is increasingly difficult for Saint Louis Public Schools to compete with charters, particularly ones popping up in such close proximity to schools that serve the same grades.

Aldermen & Optics

Aldermen have long been criticized for their handling of issues related to public education. Tax abatements for developers (hello, gentrification!) have been supported by many of them. Saint Louis Public Schools missed out on 31 million dollars just two years ago as a result of these tax breaks.

I began digging through some applications and PDF files for Kairos. I found their prospectus, their application to the department of education in D.C., and alongside their application, I found letters. These letters were appealing to the Dept. of Education to approve Kairos’ application for opening.

Two letters, in particular, I found to be devastating.

One from Shane Cohn, alderman of the 25th ward. That is not the ward Monroe resides in, nor the ward Kairos was considering opening up in… so I am not sure why there was a letter written from him in the first place.

In the letter, Mr. Cohn cites an overabundance of students in Dutchtown to go around to all of the different “options”. This is simply untrue. The city’s overall population has been declining steadily since the 1960s. That area is not bustling with middle schoolers looking to fill empty seats at all of the different experimental charters that pop up each year… and the traditional public school on the corner.

Possibly more upsetting was the second letter, however, from Cara Spencer, alderwoman for the 20th ward. Yes, the one Kairos and Monroe both reside within.

Cara Spencer notes that while Saint Louis Public is improving, they still are not “meeting the needs” of all students.

On a personal note, I would like for someone to please show me a charter school that has proven to fit more needs of more students (not just select students… we know how choosy they can be!). Half of all charter schools opened in the last 30 years have closed due to financial or academic failure. But not before raking in millions off of each Black and brown student in their school.

Kairos’ original proposal was for a charter school that started at 6th and added on every year until they were 6–12 grades. Now? Conveniently just a couple weeks after Monroe was listed for closure? They have announced they are moving down to add 5th grade next year.

Ms. Spencer wrote a letter to aid in the opening of an experimental charter school. Now the 100-year-old public school building will be shuttered next door. More often than I appreciate, people tend to separate thing A happening from thing B happening. These two actions are not able to be divorced from one another.

Ms. Spencer has used the schools as a way to campaign for mayor. In a Facebook post from December 16th she writes:

The mayor of St. Louis has no direct authority over the schools. The state grants that to the elected school board and the administration.

As mayor, I will use the power of my office to affect areas that I will have authority over: rebuilding neighborhoods where families would want to live, raise their children and send them to a nearby public school. I will make public safety my number one priority to ensure the neighborhoods and housing are safe and a robust economy will adequately employ parents. I will lay the groundwork to reverse the trend of closing schools, which disrupts the family’s lives by relocating children to different schools.

The problems are deep and systemic. But I pledge to work with educators, families, economic development and the business community to strengthen our public schools.

If we want our city to succeed, we need our schools to succeed.

The interesting part of this is that she has actively worked against the neighborhood public school in her ward. Should the closures go through (and really, even if they don’t), this will not be easily forgotten by me. And during the mayoral run, it should not be forgotten by anyone who calls themselves a friend of public schools.

You do not get to use public schools to push your platform, while also pushing policies, abatements, and charters in under the table. That goes for anyone.

Our students deserve better. They are not guinea pigs. They are not lab rats. They are not a photo-op for your candidacy.

They deserve the best. They deserve all of our city’s “enthusiastic support”. I can tell you from experience that neither Spencer nor Cohn have offered the same support to the school I work at that they offered to Kairos, especially not before the closures were announced. They have not helped canvass, suggesting to parents that Monroe or Carnahan or Fanning are viable options for their children. If we are to maintain a stable public school option in each neighborhood, we must stop funding charters and allowing rich ivy league 22-year-olds to experiment on our children.

We must pour all of the same energy and support into making each neighborhood school in the district an innovative and strong educational experience.

Cara Spencer’s letter to the DoE, in support of Kairos’ opening.
Alderman Shane Cohn’s Letter to the DoE, in support of Kairos’ opening.

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Lexi Perez Lane

Partner. Educator. Justice-Seeker. I believe education is a right and reward. I live in St. Louis, MO, USA. I coach basketball. I write.