ST. LOUIS — In the 40s and 50s, Sumner High School in The Ville peaked at about 5,000 students. Decades later, there are less than 200 enrolled.
In 2019, St. Louis Public Schools listed Sumner as one of 11 schools at risk of closing.
"It is really unfortunate that you would try to close Sumner High School given its legacy and its importance to the black community and the Ville," Sumner Advisory Board Chairman Aaron Williams said.
Williams, a member of 4theVille Organization, submitted a proposal to the School Board to keep the first black high school West of the Mississippi River open.
St. Louis Public Schools Superintendent approved the proposal to keep Sumner High School open if enrollment increased by 10% each year over three years.
"Within one full student cycle, so with incoming freshmen here, by the time they graduate to have this school enrollment back up above 400 students," Williams said.
He plans to do that by offering new Arts elective courses. Williams established a 16-person advisory council with Vice-Chair Tom Ridgely from the St. Louis Shakespeare Festival and hired new Arts Program Director Jermaine Smith to help.
"For year one, there's four Arts pathways. There's dance, drama, music and visual arts. We're hoping to add fashion and especially that activism piece in year two," Ridgley Said.
"We always talk about kids having a pipeline to prison. Well, I'm creating a new pipeline. A pipeline to success through media. So, now if you have a pipeline through going from high school to college to even a possible job," Smith said.
"We need to change the narrative of Sumner High School. We need to believe that what's going on within these four walls is preparing students to be productive citizens," Williams said.
The advisory council raised the money to hire the new program coordinator and offer the electives through community partnerships with local arts organizations.
OFFICERS & BOARD MEMBERS
Chair – Aaron Williams, 4theVille – Board Chairman
Vice-Chair – Tom Ridgely, Shakespeare Festival – Producing Artistic Director
Secretary - Michelle Dezember, Contemporary Art Museum – Director of Learning & Engagement
Treasurer - Nicole Hudson, WUSTL Academy for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion - Assistant Vice Chancellor
Laura Hughes - Fleur De Lis Development Corp
Warice Blackmon-Davis - SLPS & Sumner Alum
Dr. Jerome Morris - UMSL E. Desmond Lee Endowed Professor of Urban Education
Jacqueline Vanderford - Retired Educator & Sumner Alum
Michael Roy Blackshear -Retired School Administrator & Sumner Alum
Charles Berry, Jr. - Musician & Son of Sumner Alum Chuck Berry
Thomasina Clarke - Ville Resident, 4theVille Board Treasurer
Alison Ferring - Philanthropist
Dr. Sean Nichols (Sumner Principal)
Dana Love (Sumner Parent)
Stephon Riggins (Sumner Student)
Cameron Conner (Sumner Teacher)
Mission: To build an innovative model of community-based public education that drives student enrollment, academic achievement, and social engagement at Sumner High School.
Vision: to continue its tradition of Black excellence by fostering the next generation of trailblazing cultural leaders and community activists. Ultimately, Sumner High School will become an anchor that supports revitalization of The Ville neighborhood.