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New 3-year plan to keep The Ville's Sumner High School from closing

The St. Louis Public School Board approved a proposal to keep Sumner High School open if enrollment increases by 10% each year for three years

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.

RELATED: St. Louis Public Schools board votes to close 7 schools, delays decision on Sumner High School

"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.

RELATED: SLPS approves plan to keep Sumner High School open, apply for National Landmark status

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.


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.

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