Saturday, March 30, 2013

Why Vote Yes on Prop U

Since January I’ve been working with a group of dedicated volunteers to inform U. City residents on the facts of Proposition U. Personally I’ve clocked countless hours on the campaign while neglecting my family, friends and personal responsibilities – because I believe Prop U is the right thing for our kids and our community.

The School District of University City is the only school district in the metro area
with robotic teams at the elementary, middle school, and high school levels.
Obviously I’m pro Prop U, but there seems to be some who oppose the betterment of our school district. What surprises me is the misleading and inaccurate information the opposition is stating as fact. Set the fallacies aside and voting Yes on Prop U seems like the best choice for our community as a whole. Let’s look at the real facts.

  • Prop U is a bond Issue that will raise $19.4 million for our schools without raising our property tax rate. With a “yes” vote for Prop U, tax rates could remain stable, yielding big returns with the investment in our schools. The tax savings that would be achieved by property owners through a “no” vote would be almost indiscernible. For a full explanation of the tax implications click here.

  • Our beautifully, historic school buildings are aging and in need of major repair. Just like the homes we live in, occasionally we need to make major repairs. Every school district raises funds for major capital repairs through bond issues. To properly educate our students we need to provide the proper facilities. I challenge anyone to compare U. City facilities to any of the “better” school districts and say the proposed renovations are unnecessary. Look at the brand new science building Clayton High School recently added. Prop U will only address a fraction of the $100 million in needed renovations in the district. The sale of Delmar Harvard will address some additional renovations, but there will still be a lengthy list of facility needs within the school district even if Prop U passes. A list of proposed renovations and the impact for the students and the district can be found here.

Mr. Coleman, honored by Yale University as one of the top jazz
teachers in the U.S. performs with the High School jazz band.

  • U. City schools have made big improvements and there are many exciting initiatives in progress. All residents want a school district to be proud of. Good schools make for good property values and a great community. We can proudly say that the School District of University City is on the upswing. Check out some of the terrific stories coming out of U. City schools here.
Mr. Bryne leading sixth graders through a science experiment.

From my vantage point it’s hard to see why you wouldn’t vote Yes for Prop U. With no tax rate increase, we can improve the schools, the community, and the future of many U. City students.

To pass, Prop U needs 4/7ths of the vote. Every YES vote is needed. Please share this message with your friends and neighbors and remind them to vote YES on Prop U this Tuesday, April 2.

School district facilities are available for use by the community. For example, groups such as the Boy and Girl Scouts, atheletic groups and even the University City Symphony use our school buildings for meetings and practices.

Paid for by Cindy Thierry, U. City resident

Thursday, March 21, 2013

UCHS Offers New Programs

U. City Schools are on spring break this week, so we parent bloggers have been on a hiatus of our own. But Patch editor Maggie Rotermund has posted a couple of great articles on two new wonderful programs now available at University City High School on the University City Patch.
The first article, "New Curriculum May Lead to New Career Opportunities," discussess Project Lead The Way (PLTW).  Here is an excerpt:

Rebecca Soriano will coordinate PLTW, a rigorous and innovative curriculum that employs the STEM approach to learning at University City High School.

“PLTW is a proven, research-based program used across the country,” Soriano explained. “This fall, our students (mostly freshmen) will start earning college credit for pre-engineering courses that develop critical thinking skills through hands-on, project-based learning. They will take on real-world challenges in a rigorous and fun program designed to help them gain entry into careers in the sciences and engineering; very important in today’s job market.”

The second article announces "Grade A: U City High School Is Now an A+ School." Here is an excerpt:

The A+ Schools Program was founded in 1993 to improve Missouri’s high schools. The two-tiered program motivates students to tutor, mentor others and focus on the future. Tutoring at District schools is the program’s focus this year. The mentoring aspect of the program will be available in the future.

To earn the designation, the Board president, superintendent and high school principal signed official documentation to verify the District’s commitment to providing rigorous coursework, administer a comprehensive guidance plan and work towards the goal of all students graduating from high school with the skills necessary to succeed as they pursue a postsecondary college degree, technical school education or high-wage job.
To read more the full length articles please visit the University City Patch.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

UCHS Robolions Competition Photos

The UCHS FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) Team 3397, The Robolions, had a great time at this year's St. Louis Regional Championship.  Although they didn't advance to the World Championship this year, their robot looked great and performed well.  Here are a few photos from the competition. Read more about team 3397 here and here.

This year's robot, "Serenity", ready to compete.
Inspecting the robotic arm.

Christine and Mike remove the robot's mechanical arm to replace a bolt sheared off in competition.

Andrew blogs live from the pit.
Marquise reattaches the arm, post repair.

Grace, Henry, and Paul talk strategy.

Serenity performs during a match.
Carl and Walter drive during a match.

Placing Serenity on the field.

Go Lions!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Robots Rock! UCHS Robolions help make STEM ‘The New Cool’

Christine, Marquise, and Jonah working on electronics.

What do you get when you mix a few hundred kids with A+ geek credentials, dedicated adult volunteers, representatives from the country’s top science and technology corporations and universities, sky-high energy, the steady beat of techno pop, and some of the coolest robots you will ever see?  A FIRST Robotics Competition, that’s what!
This weekend (March 15th & 16th, 2013) The University City Robolions, UCHS’s own FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) team will compete along with 40 other high school teams from Missouri and surrounding states in the St. Louis Regional FIRST Robotics Championship. You can catch the Robolions and their competitors in action from 9:00 – 4:00 Friday and Saturday, at the Chaifetz Arena on the campus of Saint Louis University.   This event is free and open to the public.
Carl cutting metal.
This will be the fourth regional championship for the Robolions, FRC team 3397. The team was founded in 2010, and has been growing in size and ability ever since.  The twenty-some members of the team spend hundreds of hours over the course of the school year in pursuit of robot perfection.  Beginning with a kickoff in January, teams from around the world (2,548 in 2013) receive a game challenge and a kit of parts.  With the help of coaches and mentors (the Robolions’ mentors are from Boeing) they are given six weeks to design, engineer, build, and program a robot from scratch to perform the tasks required for the game.  This year’s game is called ULTIMATE ASCENT and challenges robots to do things like pick up Frisbees, shoot Frisbees at targets and climb a metal pyramid. Teams also look for opportunities to practice Gracious Professionalism, a key component of the FIRST programs.

Lafayette getting ready to do some programming
The short, intensive build season requires students to work collaboratively and quickly, learning and implementing a wide spectrum of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math)-related skills.  From engineering a chassis using CAD programs like Autodesk Inventor, to designing electronics and building circuit boards, to figuring out the mechanics of moving parts and programming the robot to do a series of complex tasks, our students experience intense hands-on learning in a real world environment.    They must master the safe use power tools, learn to fundraise, write grants, and hone their communication skills as they interface with local partners like Ranken Technical College for assistance with things like welding and machining robot parts. In addition to the considerable technical skills involved, students also develop skills in marketing, presentations, interviews, and even some sewing. 
The 2013 competition robot, "Serenity"

At the end of the six-week build season, the robot is “bagged and tagged” and set aside until the regional competition.  The Robolions continue their hard work in the UCHS robotics lab right up until the day of competition, doing things like building a practice robot, polishing their programming, developing marketing materials, and writing on their blog. Experienced team members work with younger students to learn new skills and prepare them for leadership positions next year, and scouts are busy sizing up the competition and considering alliances.
In 2011, the Robolions were the Eastern Missouri Regional champions, along with their alliance partners from Hazelwood Central High School and Camdenton High School, an achievement which secured them a spot in the 2011 FIRST World Championships.  Their goal of course is to make to the 2013 World Championships, which will be held here in St. Louis at the Edward Jones Dome, April 24th – 27th.  Regardless of whether they make it, UCHS robotics students are passionate about science and technology, and are well on the path to becoming tomorrow’s technology leaders.   Come on down to the Chaifetz this weekend and check them out – we guarantee you’ll have a good time!

FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology)was founded in 1992 by inventor Dean Kamen, with a vision  “to transform our culture by creating a world where science and technology are celebrated and where young people dream of becoming science and technology leaders” and a mission to “inspire young people to be science and technology leaders, by engaging them in exciting mentor-based programs that build science, engineering and technology skills, that inspire innovation, and that foster well-rounded life capabilities including self-confidence, communication, and leadership.”
For more information on FIRST robotics visit and check out The New Cool by Neal Bascomb. For information about local FIRST programs visit  Competitions can be streamed live via the NASA websiteFollow the UCHS Robolions on their blog, The Fourth Law of Robotics or friend them on facebook.

Look for updates on the UCHS Robolions in the weeks to come!

UPDATE:  See competition photos here.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

In Need of a Library

Prop U is a $19.4 million zero-tax-rate-increase bond issue that would tackle many renovations and capital improvements to the beautifully, historic schools in University City. Many of the schools date back as far as the 1930s. Just like our old homes, these schools require more upkeep than newer schools and can lack some of the 21st facilities of new schools.

It’s hard to dispute much needed renovations such as inadequate and failing HVAC systems and leaking roofs that are like sieves, lockers that date to the 1950s that are now safety hazards, or even 30-year-old windows in need of replacement. But why does the high school need a new library and media center?
Architect's rendering of the high school library addition.
Here are some facts:
·       The current library is actually a courtyard that was enclosed at some point as a library. The space was not originally intended as a library and therefore the space is choppy and does not function well for the educational needs / standards required by today’s teachers.
·       The current HS library does not meet DESE standards.

·       While a library can be likened to the command center of any school, the high school is the centerpiece of any school district. This is the final stop for students before launching into their secondary education.  Students and the community gather here to research, collaborate, and learn. Our students and our community deserve 21st century facilities to prepare them for the future.

·       Renovation would cost $1,000,000 more than a new addition. It is less expensive to build a new addition than to renovate the existing space. However, the existing space would be repurposed to accommodate other programs in the school (such as graphics art) that are now in cramped or less than desirable spaces.

·       In addition to a new library, the addition would feature collaboration space, resource space, upgraded technology, broadcasting and publishing centers, and ADA access.

·       The library addition will have separate access from the school and the ability to restrict access into the main building. This enables the use of the variety of spaces in the library / media center for community purposes.  
So, while some may be asking why a new library / media center for the high school, I ask, “Why not?”

For more information on Prop U visit

Double click on images for a larger version.
Proposed floor plan for first floor

Proposed floor plan for second floor

Proposed floor plan for third floor

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

What's Right with the Region!

On Thursday, May 9, 2013, FOCUS St. Louis will honor 20 organizations, individuals, and initiatives that have made a profound difference in the St. Louis region. The 16th annual What’s Right with the Region! awards recognize outstanding individual leadership and community success stories. One of those success stories is the Brittany Woods Community School Initiative.

Three years ago, the University City School District forged a 25-year committed partnership with Washington University, beginning the Brittany Woods Community School Initiative. Together, with additional community partners, including Wyman Center, they are raising expectations, providing needed services, and connecting the community to their goal of social, emotional, academic and personal success for all students.

The steady and intentional transformation of Brittany Woods Middle School began in response to conditions of low academic achievement, high rates of leadership turn-over, a school climate that was perceived to be chaotic, and a negative perception of the school in the local community. Evaluating models of school turn-around, the district and university – through both the Brown School of Social Work and Institute for School Partnership – committed to a “community school” model. The community school integration includes a strong instructional program, expanded learning opportunities for students, and additional services aimed at supporting healthy development, including Wyman’s Teen Outreach Program. Research has demonstrated that these types of comprehensive approaches support the overall achievement and growth of students.

As a part of the Community School Initiative, Wyman’s Teen Outreach Program is
integrated into the seventh grade curriculum at Brittany Woods Middle School.
Since 2009, Brittany Woods has seen impressive outcomes for students, families and the University City community, including:
  • Increases in student attendance
  • Decrease in annual behavioral referrals
  • A positive trend in student achievement on benchmark and standardized tests
  • Significant increases in parental involvement
  • Passing of a bond issue for renovations and to add a new library to the school
  • Development of a Community School Fair, attended by over 100 families and 20 community organizations
The Brittany Woods Community School Initiative leverages the shared physical and human assets of numerous local organizations, a collaborative leadership structure, and a data-driven process to help students succeed. It demonstrates a deep commitment to transforming and strengthening urban education – and communities – and provides a beacon of hope for others in our region.

Congratulations to our friends and partners at Brittany Woods Middle School and Washington University in St. Louis, and thank you for being a part of a collaboration that is helping young people succeed, and contributing to a stronger community.

FOCUS St. Louis is the region’s premier leadership development organization that connects diverse leaders from public, private, and civic sectors and empowers them to work together to build a thriving St. Louis community.

Originally posted on the Wyman Center Web site by Emily Black.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Quiet Einstein

University City High School junior Deja Bowie is known by her science teachers as “Quiet Einstein” because of her reserved and unassuming demeanor in class.  She doesn’t say a lot, but when it comes to doing science, what she puts down on paper and on white board is brilliant.  So brilliant, in fact, that she has been named a 2013 recipient of the University of Missouri – St. Louis’ Distinguished Achievement for Excellence in Science award.

Each year UMSL honors the most outstanding high school STEM (Science, technology, Engineering, and Math) students from the greater St. Louis metropolitan area at a banquet in the university’s Millennium Student Center.  Deja, her parents, and UCHS science teacher Julie Ertmann were treated to dinner and a piano concert by UCHS Chancellor Tom George, followed by a keynote speech on “Proteins Behaving Badly in Alzheimer’s Disease” by UMSL associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry Michael Nichols.

The UCHS science department nominated Deja for the award because of what physics teacher Tony Thomas describes as her outstanding work ethic, her choice of challenging classes, and her conscientious attitude towards understanding the difficult course material presented to her.  Deja credits her science classes as UCHS with helping her in other areas of study, and especially in enhancing her understanding of mathematics.

When she’s not doing science, Deja plays on the varsity girls’ soccer team, is a talented dancer, and performed in the UCHS spring musical, Footloose.  She was also one of 25 students chosen to travel to Washington, DC in January to attend the presidential inauguration . After high school, Deja plans to study social sciences at a school “out of state.”  Just like the proverbial still waters which run deep, we suspect that U. City High School’s own ‘Quiet Einstein’ will make a big impact in all of her future endeavors.

By Kim Deitzler, Guest Blogger, with reporting assistance from Grace Deitzler, UCHS Senior Extraordinaire

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

College Bound

We all want the best for our children. Early on, we start molding them hoping they will achieve all of their wildest dreams (and maybe some of our own as well).

My husband is an attorney and I am a marketing manager for a $1.5 billion business unit of a Fortune 100 company. We like to think that we’re successful and are preparing our children for a successful future – whatever that may look like for them.

Justin Dickerson, Lawrence University, 2012 UCHS Grad

When we tell people we live in U. City the inevitable next question is,  “So where do your kids go to school?”  As our new acquaintances attempt to mask their surprise at our response, we tend to get defensive and launch into a stump speech on why U. City schools.  But in my head I’m thinking, “Do you really take us for parents that would risk our children’s education – their future?”

Elliot Wilson, Harvard, 2011 UCHS Grad
People point to MAP data to illustrate the poor achievement rates at U. City. The truth is, you can’t look at raw data and get the real picture.  When the data is viewed by the make-up of the student population, U. City students are achieving on par with their counterparts in the Clayton and Ladue school districts.  In fact, UCHS offers a wealth of Advanced Placment (AP) classes and juniors and seniors are able to take college credit courses at UMSL, Washington University, and the junior college system.

But achievement isn’t the only decision factor for some families. It’s not uncommon to hear, “I don’t want my child to be a minority” or, “I want my child to be in an environment where all children are striving for college.”

Sydney Pritchard (left), Columbia College, 2011 UCHS Grad

These considerations are personal and unique to each family and the individual child. In our family, we believe that U. City schools are not only providing our children with the education they deserve, but they are also gaining valuable and enriching experiences that will serve them well in the real world – a world that is diverse in many, many ways. After all, it takes more than college degrees to make the world turn. Our household may have college graduates, but we hire plumbers, HVAC technicians, landscapers and many other professions to keep our little corner of the world running. Some of them may have degrees, certificates, or be self-educated. Regardless, they are just as successful in this world as you and me.

Luke Babich, Stanford, 2012 UCHS Grad

Experience with diversity happens to serve UCHS grads well. Talk to a U. City grad and they will tell you they are able to get along with just about anyone – something their peers from more homogenous environments struggle with.  As the University of Arkansas likes to say, “Diversity is a strength to be pursued, not a requirement to be met."

Matt Robinson, SIU-Carbondale, 2012 UCHS Grad

UCHS grads attend universities all over the country - schools like Stanford, Harvard, Rice and Northwestern. Already this year U. City seniors are interviewing with the likes of Princeton, Yale, and John Hopkins. These are big name, Ivy League schools; but grads are also going to schools like SLU, Mizzou, Indiana, So Cal, Wash U and Vanderbilt that are equally impressive. What really matters isn’t the name, it’s whether the school is a good match for the student’s long-term goals.

So when someone tells me they’re paying $15K or more for their child’s annual tuition I just smile and am thankful to know my children are receiving good educations while I am saving that money to pay for college tuitions when the time arrives.

Rebecca Eissenberg, Colorado State, Wash U Law School, 2007 UCHS Grad
Written by Cindy Thierry

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Elev8 Brittany Woods

Three years ago, Washington University entered into a long-term agreement with the School District of University City as part of an initiative to create a community school. As part of that initiative “Elev8” was created – a committee of Brittany Woods staff and parents that meet regularly with faculty and staff from Washington University.

Andrea Holmes-Bownes, is a full-time staff member at Brittany Woods that is employed by Wash U.  Ms. Holmes helps the Elev8 team initiate many projects at the middle school – from parent/student seminars, to after school clubs, to the Winter Ball, and student field trips to Washington University.

The 7th graders at the Winter Ball
The most recent Parent/Student Seminar discussed preparation for benchmark exams such as the MAP and Discovery Ed and the new Common Core Assessments that will be introduced next year. Brittany Woods teacher, Ms. Crawford led the discussion on the importance of middle school assessments and the role of preparing students for the ACT and SAT tests taken in high school.  She also mentioned the financial rewards of doing well on these types of exams in the form of scholarships.  Participants of the seminar went through questions from each exam type as a group. Assessment materials were also provided for the students to work on at home with their parents.

As an added bonus, students who attended the seminar also received Sean Covey’s book, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens,” its companion workbook, and the two-CD set of the book.

The next Parent Student Seminar is scheduled for April 23 on the topic of Career Exploration and Planning.

If you’re interested in being part of the Elev8 team there are multiple opportunities.

·         Ten 7th grade parents are needed to participate in a Parent Focus group on March 13, 2013 at 10AM or at 6PM.  Contact Andrea Holmes-Bownes at
·         The newsletter team and the After-school store committee are looking for parent volunteers.

·         The Elev8 Committee is looking for additional parent volunteers.

·         Donations are always needed for the school store.  Anything from iTunes gift cards, notebooks, cool pens, or just about anything a kid can buy with Eagle Bucks. Eagle Bucks are given to students throughout the day to reward positive behavior. Donations can be left in the school office.