SNIA's Efforts Help to Secure Sherman SchoolBy: Eric Vineyard and Lawrence Johnson
It only takes a cursory glance at Sherman Elementary - our neighborhood school - to recognize its value. Fortunately, both a dedicated SNIA committee and the school’s new principal, Dr. Olivia Roberts, agree and are working to save it from closure.
“It seems to me, as an optimist, that it would be a feather in our cap if we could have a strong school that everyone would want to attend,” said Gwendolyn Moore, Shaw resident since 1996 and a member of SNIA’s Sherman School committee.
Designed by architect William B. Ittner and built in 1898, Sherman is eligible for the National Register, according to the St. Louis Landmarks Association. Its history of excellence is well documented. When retired, 24-year Principal Juanita Doggett passed away in April, a St. Louis Post-Dispatch obituary characterized Doggett as someone who “didn’t tolerate poor work habits – from students or teachers – and often went to the homes of kids not in class.” And a Platform editorial from long-time Shaw resident, Eddie Roth, described how Mrs. Doggett brought a diverse neighborhood together.
Yet in 2008, the School Board, citing low student enrollment, poor performance, and aging conditions in the school's building and grounds voted to merge Sherman with Mann School (in Tower Grove South) and Shenandoah (in Tower Grove East) into a new school facility to be constructed in 2011.
Responsive to this decision, SNIA launched its efforts to save Sherman. The Sherman School Committee was formed to bolster student enrollment, to promote school improvements, and to increase community involvement in the school. The Committee is currently chaired by Lawrence Johnson, who moved to Shaw in 2007.*
The past school year has seen the arrival at Sherman of a new, permanent principal, Dr. Olivia Roberts. Her enthusiasm and energy have been infectious with the staff, students, parents and community. She has worked with and welcomed the Committee's involvement in the following school initiatives. • Back-to-School Greeting for students & parents • Library move from the basement to the first floor • Sherman School/Tower Grove Park Black History Month Tree-Planting Ceremony & the Shakespeare in the Park Performance • Online links between the Sherman & SNIA websites • Curb landscaping and playground restoration • Enlargement of Sherman's Student Attendance Zone • Creation of "Book Works:" story writing & illustrating project for students • Identification & outreach to Sherman alumni
As a result of Principal Roberts' leadership in improving student enrollment and performance and SNIA's active involvement in the school, Sherman is more secure. But the Committee's efforts will continue. Critical to the future of Sherman will be the decision of the School Board on how to expend the anticipated revenue from the bond issue. We must vigorously advocate for needed capital improvements at Sherman, for example, reconfiguration of classrooms to accommodate preschoolers, restoration of the playground, and weatherization of the building. We must also encourage parents to tour the school and consider enrolling their children in Sherman, for only an increase in enrollment will guarantee that Sherman stays open. As Moore said, "We get strong impressions that our efforts influence the School Board. If the community supports the school, then (the Board is) more likely to do what the community wants."
*Committee Members • Lawrence Johnson, Chair • Cynthia Bishop • Phoebe Love • John Merideth • Gwendolyn Moore • Carrie Oliver • Ben Phillips • Susan Turk • Olivia Roberts, Principal • Matt Davis, Ex Officio
** Lawrence is an attorney, with a 30-year career in equal education opportunity. He represented black students and parents in the Boston school desegregation case, so is familiar with schools and communities experiencing desegregation. Persons interested in joining or working with the Committee may contact Lawrence at email@example.com.