Compton-Drew Investigative Learning Center

Compton-Drew Investigative Learning Center is a middle magnet school within the St. Louis Public School System, serving children grades 6 through 8. The school has been located at 5130 Oakland Avenue in the Kings Oak Neighborhood since 1996. 

Most in the region probably recognize the school from its octagonal blond brick and aqua sheet metal construction facing Oakland Avenue directly west of the Science Center and across I-64 from Forest Park.

The school takes its name from two men of science, Doctor Arthur Holly Compton, a Nobel Prize winning physicist and former chancellor of Washington University:

And, Doctor Charles Richard Drew, an African-American surgeon from Washington, D.C. who developed techniques for processing and storing blood plasma for use in transfusions:

Compton-Drew is a magnet school within the St. Louis Public School System. A guide to magnet schools if provided by the SLPS here.

What is a magnet you may ask?

Students ordinarily go to the public school nearest them. Magnet schools are public schools without school boundaries. Each has something unique to offer that you won't find in traditional schools, whether it's a particular focus on technology or the arts, or a stimulating curriculum designed especially for gifted students. St. Louis Magnet School programs welcome eligible students from St. Louis County to help increase diversity in the public school system. Because of high demand, admission is based on a lottery system.

Here is the mission statement and school philosophy for Compton-Drew:

The Compton-Drew ILC Middle School will foster a learning community through collaboration of teacher facilitated and student directed life-long learning. Our community will celebrate diversity through inclusionary representations of all societal elements. We will engage our young citizens for active lives in a democratic society, fostering leadership and respect for individual cultural values. We believe it is the responsibility of Compton-Drew ILC staff, faculty, parents, students, and the community to implement a program that embodies the concept that education is a growth process by which people make choices that promote learning to think and act more effectively. (source)

Compton-Drew extends to the south across Berthold Avenue where there is a sports field for the students:

 rear entryway

sports field

Since the school is relatively new, the recently passed Proposition S funds went toward building safety & security upgrades, IP clocks, ADA signage and classroom lighting upgrades.

To learn a little more about Compton-Drew, I interviewed John and Katie Wessling, parents of two children who have attended the SLPS.

John, is a product of St. Louis and Katie grew up in Springfield, Illinois and moved to St. Charles, Missouri as a teen and moved to St. Louis in 1995.  The Wessling's live in the South City neighborhood of Princeton Heights.  They chose the SLPS for their kids and here is their story.

They have 2 children, 10 and 13.  The 13 year old attends Compton-Drew.  The 10 year old is at Humbolt Academy of Higher Learning.  In their earlier years, they both attended Wilkinson and one attended Dewey.  The other schools they shopping while considering their options included Stix, Buder, Mullanphy, Busch, Kennard, McKinley, St. Frances Cabrini.

What was the key decision point was for Compton-Drew?

Katie is a product of public schools and never thought her children would go anywhere else. John, having been a child when deseg took effect and seeing the disruption it caused, required more information before feeling comfortable with public schools, but ultimately did. In terms of choosing Compton-Drew, the key point that attracted us at the time was that it was a Tier 2 school (meaning the school day went from 8-3 PM); although, this has since changed and the school day now runs from 7-2 PM. We toured the school and were impressed with the quality of well-behaved kids, lots of extracurricular opportunity, and a rock star principal who keeps everything running as smoothly as the largest middle school in the city can be expected to run.

How do you sign up for the school?  

Admission is based on a lottery, and a racial balance is attempted to try and match the overall makeup of the city (nearly 50/50 black/white); so, depending on who is applying for admission, the gender and racial balance can fluctuate year over year.

As of 2011, the student body was:

53.4% male

46.6% female

70.7% black

22.0% white

5.4% Hispanic/Latino

1.4% Asian

0.5% American Indian

74.7% eligible for reduced or free lunch

Total enrollment was 427 students (source)

The Wessling's drop off, but there is full bus service at Compton-Drew. 

When asked to rank the following on a scale of 1-10, 10 being the best, they assigned the following:

Safety = 9, teachers = 9, principal = 10, curriculum = 9, physical resources = 9, overall educational experience = 9

I won't go to 10 on most of these because there is always room for improvement; but, I have to give our principal a 10. I don't know how she makes this school run so well while dealing with the dysfunction of the overall district, but she truly does. If every school in this district had a principal like Ms. Reid, this would be a completely different district. As far as curriculum and teaching, we have been so impressed by the lengths the school has gone to to address the needs of students like our daughter who does not need remedial help (which they offer as well) but who need to be challenged beyond the average. The 8th graders who are ready have access to an algebra course taught by a teacher with high school certification, so they can move to the next level in high school, just as the kids at McKinley are able to do. While at the middle school level there is no gifted pull-out like the elementaries have, her teachers have universally noticed when she is getting bored and have given her extra research projects or other activities to allow her to continue to learn even if the rest of the class is still focusing on something she's already gotten down. Last year, the school also provided special enrichment classes for kids who scored in the advanced MAP categories and those kids got to take classes in philosophy and Latin. While those opportunities come and go as the teachers with the necessary skills come and go (a big downfall with using TFA, there is no way to build a sustaining program), the fact that it is on the radar means a lot to me. I think it is also relevant that even though the school as a whole did not make Annual Yearly Progress, my daughter's class taken just at grade level did, last year. That shows me that the teachers are capable of teaching to the level we expect for our kids, and there are other factors besides teaching that may well be responsible for the kids who aren't reaching that same level.

Are there enrichment courses available? 

The daily schedule has the kids in 2 ancillaries per semester, chosen from: art, vocal music, band, P.E., computers and Spanish.Also, because of the school's location is next to Forest Park and the Science Center, the kids are able to take advantage of the resources there without having to get field trips arranged and paid for since they can just walk over. The teachers make use of the Science Center and Museums to supplement the curriculum whenever possible.

Are there extra-curricular activities? 

There is a full array of sports activities. There is also a bike club that yearly takes a bike ride down the Katy Trail to Jefferson City, MO. Washington University does the Alberti architecture program; the Science Center as our magnet partner does frequent programs with the kids. Somehow, I think because it is a large school so there is more money coming in, they also take many more field trips than we have experienced with any of the other schools we've attended. The kids are taken to various locations to do service projects as well as educational field trips. The band teacher is really good about getting those students to cultural performances--in fact once I didn't sign the permission form because my daughter had gone on so many band trips in a couple month time frame I decided she needed to stay in class that day.

What are the kids like? 

They are middle schoolers, so they are all temporarily insane. But they are, overall, a great bunch of kids who act appropriately; and are, for the most part, nice to each other. My daughter has never once not wanted to go to school over social issues. They are respectful when I am in the building. There are some issues, of course, but I don't think it goes beyond anything that most schools with kids of this age go through. There is stupid stuff written on the bathroom stalls which the school paints over as quickly as it can. There are some kids who get in trouble. But my daughter has made great friends there and doesn't want to leave for high school next year.

Is there good parental involvement and accountability?

Parental involvement is there but it is not readily visible in the building. What I mean by that is that kids are showing up, in uniform. School fundraisers have high involvement and we make a good amount. When we have programs or evening activities, families come out. Families don't tend to show up for PTO meetings or Title 1 meetings, the "business" part of parental involvement. I attribute a lot of this to the struggle many magnets have which is that since families come from all over the city it isn't always easy or possible for parents to get to the school in the evenings depending on how far they have to come or whether they depend on public transportation. Staff is always interested in having parents involved, however, so the door is open.

Just as a final comment, I have had absolutely no second guessing about our decision to send our daughter here. Middle school is a scary step, and this has been so much easier than I thought it would be. While nothing is perfect, the minor issues we have had along the way have not been anything that overall has marred our time here and I cannot imagine we would have had an easier road anywhere else.

Please tell me about the cons of Compton-Drew.

The school hours were changed from 8-3 PM to 7-2 PM, that is the only part of the school that we would change. The other thing I wish is that the school had more racial diversity. That can be remedied easily if more Caucasian families will realize this jewel in their midst and take advantage of it.

As you can see, the Wessling's are overall very positive about their experience and would definitely recommend Compton-Drew to other families.  It is a safe, viable option for public education in the city. 

To all expecting parents and young families out there who love city living, please consider all your options, educate yourself, talk to people and parents and visit schools before vacating the city for suburban districts when your children reach school age.

To apply for Compton-Drew Investigative Learning Center enrollment in 2013/14, click here.