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ST. LOUIS - When Francis Howell accepted transfer students from Normandy Schools last year, some were concerned about how that might affect the district's performance.

The latest evaluation numbers from the state department of education indicate that district was not negatively impacted. Francis Howell's overall score for the 2013-2014 school year was 96.8 percent, an improvement from 96.4 percent the year before (2012-2013).

"We are very happy with the results, we were able to see this past school year," said Dr. Mary Hendricks-Harris, Chief Academic Officer for the district. "Our teachers have been working very diligently over the past five to 10 years on some very strategic work to see the kinds of positive results we have seen this year."

Hendricks-Harris credits improved average ACT scores and graduation rates, among other things, for the district's success. The district's average ACT score improved 0.5 percent, from 22.7 to 23.2. The graduation rate in the Francis Howell district rose from 91.9 percent to a 93.7 percent.

Those are many of the reasons Venencia Small fought for her daughter, Nyia, to attend the Francis Howell district. She joined more than 400 other students who transferred to Francis Howell from Normandy when the state allowed students to leave the failing district. Normandy's scores decreased this past year, from 11.1 percent to 7.1 percent.

"I know what's best for her, and what's best for her is that she gets a good education. Just like any other 11-year-old that's out there. They deserve to be educated, they deserve to have friends, they deserve to be back with the same stability that she had last year," Small said. Her daughter attends Hollenbeck Middle School.

The decision to transfer the students was controversial, and several families from Normandy are now involved in a legal battle to keep their children at Francis Howell for another year. The district said they would not comment on pending litigation.

However, Headricks-Harris said Francis Howell is happy with their improved scores during the year her district received more than 400 transfer students.

"I think we were pleasantly surprised at the results of our overall achievement data points this school year," she said. "Our teachers have been working very hard over the past years to identify interventions for struggling students, and they were able to put those interventions in place last year for all of our students. Our existing students and our new students and were able to see the successes of the studies from the previous years."

Small said she finally got a judge's approval on Monday for Nyia to attend Hollenbeck Middle School in St. Charles County. She says the state's numbers showing Normandy's decrease and Francis Howell's improvement justified her struggle.

"Francis Howell, they didn't change. They didn't change when they absorbed our babies," she said. "To me, that says me fighting for her was the best thing that I could do for her. So when we got that news, I felt like the fight was worth it."

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