Educators plan for "intervention'

Wednesday, November 4, 1998

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Cincinnati Public Schools leaders hope to have a plan in place by spring that would allow them to intervene in failing schools by replacing the staff or chartering the school with a new academic program.

School board members and Superintendent Steven Adamowski holed up Tuesday for the third of their daylong strategic planning retreats at the Queen City Club downtown. Tuesday's topic was charter schools.

Since two charter schools opened in September within city limits, CPS leaders have scrambled to plot ways to prevent the independent, public schools from draining students -- and dollars -- from the district.

Charter schools, called community schools in Ohio, free schools from many state mandates. State lawmakers passed Ohio's charter school law last year to give parents more educational choices and foster competition among public schools.

Tuesday, Mr. Adamowski stressed that officials shouldn't approve charters for schools that duplicate programs already available in the district. Rather, CPS leaders can charter new or existing schools in the district in four ways:

  • Conversion schools. Successful or improving schools could be chartered to give them more autonomy.

  • Forerunner schools. In failing schools, CPS officials could replace the staff and implement an academic program based on the district's strategic plan.

  • Specialized schools. This would be a new school addressing a specific need, such as a military academy or a school for dropouts.

  • Pathfinder schools. This would be a school operated by an outside group using "promising practices" that could be repeated on a broader scale.

Mr. Adamowski also proposed instituting contract schools, in which the district would partner with a private group to run a school. For example, CPS and the University of Cincinnati could run a college-prep high school.

Conversion and forerunner schools probably would be used most, Mr. Adamowski said.

He admitted that replacing schools' staff, known as reconstitution, and redesigning academic programs would be unpopular. But it's necessary, he stressed.

"If we're serious about meeting the goals of the strategic plan, you've got to move the middle, and you've got to move the bottom," Mr. Adamowski said, referring to achievement. "You've got to dive into this somehow and break up the worst part of it, and the worst part of it is the low-achieving schools. Those schools cannot exist anymore because they'd take too long to turn around.

School board members agreed improvements are crucial as competition intensifies from private and charter schools.

"It's unfair to the students to put this off any longer," board member Harriet Russell said.

Board member Lynn Marmer agreed: "Reconstitution is the ultimate intervention."

In other business, district leaders agreed they should:

  • Consider adopting a policy on private donations. As the district strives to ensure equity in funding, facilities, technology and other areas, private donations often upset the balance among schools, officials said. While the district can't afford to turn away donations, leaders agreed they must think about how to level the playing field.

  • Require quarterly reports on schools performance.

  • Develop a vision for high schools. Neighborhood high schools desperately need redesign, they agreed.

  • Investigate how privatizing such needs as building maintenance could save money.

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