Missouri board of education renews Confluence Academies charter schools for five years, with added oversight

Confluence Academies charter schools in St. Louis can continue to operate for another five years under increased oversight from the state, the Missouri Board of Education decided Tuesday.

The schools’ sponsor, University of Missouri-Columbia, must present quarterly performance updates to the state board starting this spring, mainly because of low test scores.

State board member Kerry Casey of Chesterfield said she was “gravely concerned that we’re still seeing the number of students failing.”

“I don’t believe the results we’re seeing are serving the students of those schools,” she said at the monthly board meeting.

With 2,540 students across five schools, Confluence educates about one in five charter students in St. Louis. Nearly 100% of its students are Black or Hispanic and come from low-income families.

Confluence has lagged far behind state averages on standardized exams throughout its 19-year history. Last spring, 22% of Confluence students tested at a proficient level in English and 11% in math.

Charter schools strive to outperform St. Louis Public Schools, where 18% of students tested proficient in English and 10% in math last spring.

Confluence’s scores have dropped from the schools’ last charter renewal in 2017, when 32% tested proficient in English and 17% in math. However, state education leaders caution against comparisons over time because of changes to the test and the impact of the pandemic.

The state school board, which has authority over charter school sponsors but not the schools themselves, sanctioned Mizzou in December by removing three of its schools from its portfolio, including LaSalle Middle School in St. Louis.

Confluence was first threatened with closure in 2012 when its then-sponsor, Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla, placed the school on probation. Five years ago, Confluence was again on the brink but was saved by current sponsor Mizzou, which promised to improve outcomes.

Confluence hired CEO Candice Carter-Oliver in late 2016 to lead its strategic plan to turn the schools around. Enrollment has dropped by about 400 students, following a citywide trend, but gains in finances and academic performance have brought the schools back to an accredited range.

Carter-Oliver said Confluence has made its biggest strides in teacher retention and campus culture. Confluence’s test scores did not drop as much during the pandemic compared to other local schools, in part because of staying connected with families and their needs, she said.

“Confluence is in a good place and we want to continue to grow,” she said. “I commend the team that makes this work happen day to day.”