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

Under the plan, the school will focus on arts and activism in the hopes of improving attendance

ST. LOUIS — The school board of St. Louis Public Schools approved a plan to keep Sumner High School open for another three years with a focus on performing arts.

The plan calls for the school to partner with local arts organizations to "deliver intensive learning in drama, visual art, dance and music." The plan will also offer internships at partnering professional arts organizations during the spring semester.

The plan includes partnerships with The Black Rep, COCA St. Louis and others.

It was unanimously approved by the school board at a meeting Tuesday night.

Superintendent Kelvin Adams said he thinks the plan will help increase enrollment and student performance. He said studies by the National Education Association found that students who took arts courses achieved a slightly higher grade-point average, increased graduation rates and are more likely to earn a bachelor's degree.

According to Tuesday's proposal, the plan would be overseen by an advisory board made up of community partners including the founder of The Black Rep, the president and publisher of the St. Louis American and other community leaders.

In addition to the arts program, the district will also pursue National Landmark status for the school building. It was the first high school for Black students west of the Mississippi River when it opened in 1875. 

The school also boasts an alumni list that includes entertainment icons Chuck Berry, Tina Turner and Dick Gregory along with dozens of other prominent musicians.

Sumner was one of the schools spared from the district's cost-cutting plan approved in January. 

Under the plan, the district will close Clay, Dunbar, Farragut and Ford elementary schools, Fanning Middle School and Cleveland and Northwest Academy high schools. Carnahan High School will be changed from a high school to a middle school over a three-year period under the plan. Cleveland's NJROTC program will move to a different high school.

The buildings will close at the end of the school year.

Sumner High School, Hickey Elementary School and Monroe Elementary School were included in the initial closure plan, but the board voted to delay a decision on Sumner until March and removed Hickey and Monroe from the list of schools to be closed.

Adams estimated the consolidation plan could save the district $3 million.

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