SCOPE thriving at new home

Success of SCOPE touted by parents, former students

By BILL MILLIGAN

An alternative-education program credited with lowering dropout rates at eight area school districts is thriving at its new home.

SCOPE — South County Opportunities for the Purpose of Education — spent the first 10 years of its existence in a retail shopping center before moving last fall to the former St. John’s Elementary School at Will Avenue and Lemay Ferry Road — across from the Mehlville Senior High School campus.

During its time in Affton’s Grasso Plaza, SCOPE served 4,500 students, granting diplomas to more than 100 and general equivalency degrees to hundreds more. Support for the program began with five school districts and today includes Mehlville, Affton, Bayless, Hancock Place, Lindbergh, the Special School District, Valley Park and Webster Groves.

But when former Mehlville interim Superintendent Jerry Chambers proposed moving SCOPE to the unused former St. John’s site, some Board of Education members and some residents opposed the idea, voicing concerns about the proximity to the Mehlville High campus.

However, parents of SCOPE students say those concerns are unfounded.

“My daughter was diagnosed with social anxieties and depression,” said Alijana Kanezevic, an immigrant from Bosnia. “She couldn’t attend school, not all day. She didn’t make a mistake, but she couldn’t go to school. Now, she’s in college. She is a success.”

Originally established with a $200,000 Safe Schools Grant to offer an alternative education for students who received suspensions, Executive Director Allan Schindler noted such recent additions as the South St. Louis County Management School, Missouri Options GED classes, and night school have expanded SCOPE’s mission and participation.

“When we started, 90 percent of our students were discipline problems,” said Schindler, a retired Mehlville assistant superintendent. “Last year, less than 30 percent of our enrollment was discipline referrals.”

The program served 552 students last year, 165 in the SCOPE program, 18 in the management school, 214 in GED programs and 155 in night classes.

“Discipline referrals are not criminals,” Mehlville Deputy Superintendent Eric Knost said. “I once got in trouble for a fight at Bayless High School. If it were today, I could very well be finishing out my semester at SCOPE.

“To me, that puts things in perspective,” Knost said. “While you’re suspended, you’re in school. Not home alone. That’s why the programs in this building are so important.”

SCOPE graduate Jeremy Biehle credits Principal Pollie Richardson and his teachers for his high school diploma.

“SCOPE gives you another chance,” Biehle said. “If you don’t succeed, then you’re just going to be lower society. A lot of people don’t want to be like that.”

Parent Karen Everett said she had heard some community members were uncomfortable with SCOPE’s location near Mehlville High School.

“I know there was a thing in the community that things are really bad here,” Everett said. “But I think if people could come and see our school in operation they might think this is a better school than where their kids are. The teachers, Mrs. Richardson, I can’t say enough about them. I am so grateful this school is here. These kids would accomplish nothing otherwise.”