St. Louis Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Kelvin Adams is shown the days lesson by 4th grader Ronnie Gomiller during the first day of class Tues. Aug. 14, 2018. Photo by Wiley Price

Former St. Louis Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Kelvin Adams.

It did not take long for Dr. Kelvin Adams to re-enter the world of education.

After officially retiring on Dec. 31, 2022 as St. Louis Public Schools superintendent, Adams has been named Associate Dean and Regents’ Distinguished Professor for the College of Education at Harris-Stowe State University (HSSU).

Adams said he considers the next phase of his educational journey as another welcomed challenge.  

“I like challenges. I like working in places that have challenges,” Adams said.

“We have a lot of Black and brown kids in these schools but it’s really about trying to show people that Black and brown students in difficult situations can do well if conditions are established. Part of my responsibility is to help create those conditions.”

Dr. LaTonia Collins Smith, HSSU president, takes pride in landing the distinguished educator.

“Dr. Adams’ stellar experience in the field of education crosses the boundaries of multiple disciplines. His transformative and servant leadership in a district that served a large population of under-resourced students will serve our scholars well.”

Michael P. McMillan, HSSU Board Chair concurred. 

“Dr. Kelvin Adams is an exemplary leader who has dedicated himself to the advancement of the education of the students of the Saint Louis Public Schools for many years,” McMillan said in a press statement.

 “He has been a partner, ally and supporter of the University during his entire career in St. Louis! This transition is a perfect step in his career of service!”

Adams led SLPS for 14 years. He was the city’s eighth superintendent, with six coming and going between 2003 and 2006. The year before he arrived in 2008, the district lost its accreditation for poor academic and financial performance. Within two years, its budget was balanced, and voters passed a $155 million bond measure for school facility upgrades. Two years after Adam’s arrival, the district moved to provisional accreditation then regained full accreditation in 2017.

Another feather in Adams’ hat was the 2013 opening of the Collegiate School of Medicine and Bioscience, one of the top-performing magnet high schools in the state.

Before moving to St. Louis, Adams, a Louisiana native, was chief of staff for the state-run Recovery School District of New Orleans. When Hurricane Katrina demolished New Orleans in 2005, Adams was in his second year as principal of Marion Abramson Senior High School, the largest high school inthe East area of New Orleans.

In 2007, Adams served as chief of staff under high-profile superintendent Paul Vallas who was charged with resurrecting the city’s public schools. Although he stresses that Katrina was “the most tragic thing that ever happened to New Orleans,” Adams said it gave the city the “opportunity to reimagine” its public schools.”

“From the outside in, it allowed us to be creative,” Adams explained, adding that he embraced the challenge to recreate what had been devastated by “external forces.”

Unlike New Orleans, Adams pointed out, the problems with St. Louis’ public school district were “man-made.” Not only had the district lost its accreditation and was under state control, but enrollment was also plummeting, there was concentrated poverty, low test scores, high drop-out rates and a city and state-wide negative perception of the district.

Despite his many accomplishments, the last few years took a toll on the former superintendent. There were three years of ever-shifting school operations during the pandemic. There was also a shooting at Central Visual Performing Arts High School last October. Two people were killed- a teacher and a 15-year-old student as well as several other injuries. 

Those incidents “pushed everyone to the limit,” Adams said, including himself.

“There were students who were sick, we lost teachers, we did more vaccinations than tests and the political environment didn’t make it any easier. It was not a fun time for educators, but we rose and faced the challenges.”

Adams retired at the end of December, and his time off gave him a chance “to unplug.”

“I came to realize that I’d been running 24/7 for 14 years; from 5am ‘til 11pm at night. It was simply time to move on,” Adams said.

“I did some consulting work, some resting, praying, meditating, a little traveling…I feel rested and looking forward to the next challenge”

The “next challenge” will be his role as associate dean at Harris Stowe. According to HSSU, Adams will collaborate with the Dean of the College, Dr. Marrix D. Seymore, “in support of strategic planning, faculty and staff development, and enrollment management.”

Additional duties include consulting with faculty on program planning, development, evaluation, and modifications, lecturing, teacher engagement, research, “and recommendations for continued development of the education department.”

In a press release, Adams said he’s humbled by the opportunity to work at HSSU, “a historically black university (HBCU) committed to providing affordable, quality higher education to underserved students in an inspiring environment.”

Last year, an independent organization that accredits universities, notified Harris-Stowe that it had fallen out of compliance with key requirements. In its review, the Higher Learning Commission informed the university that it was “on notice” because of a delayed financial audit, unclear metrics for student academic performance outcomes and graduation rates and concerns over the university’s academic program review system.

Adams said he didn’t accept his new position to specifically address those issues but, after he learns more about the challenges, he said he’ll do whatever’s necessary to tackle them.

“It’s not the reason I’ve taken this role but it’s a challenge that’s out there and one that needs to be addressed,” Adams said. “I will attempt to address them with Dean Seymore and others.

After almost 15 years here, Adams said he considers himself “100% St. Louis,” with one caveat: He misses authentic New Orleans “gumbo, po boys and red beans & rice.”

When asked to summarize his entire educational experience, Adams was quick to offer a humble response.

“Simply put; it’s been a life of trying to give back. With every role I’ve ever played, I’ve always tried to give back more than I took.”

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