Wednesday, March 01, 2000

Troubled districts plot improvement

Schools expect to do better next year

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        When the Ohio 2000 School District Report Cards were sent to parents and posted on the Internet Monday, a countdown started for districts that didn't make the highest grade.

        Such systems, including 34 in Greater Cincinnati, have until July 1 to submit an improvement plan to the state for approval. If troubled districts don't show continuous improvement over the next few years, the state can consider a partial or total administrative takeover — much like it did with Cleveland's system after a federal judge's order in 1995.

        On the report cards, systems were given one of four grades, including the lowest, “academic emergency,” for districts meeting eight or fewer of 27 criteria set by the state. Criteria included how many students achieved state objectives on standardized tests, along with graduation and attendance rates.

        Other grades included “academic watch” for districts meeting nine to 13 criteria; “continuous improvement” for 14-25; and “effective” for 26 or 27 criteria met.

        Six area districts got the top grade.

        All districts not deemed “effective” must submit improvement plans. Eight area districts were graded as “aca demic emergencies,” including Cincinnati Public Schools and Lockland — Hamilton County's largest and smallest districts, respectively.

        “We only missed by one criteria, so we're happy,” said Lockland Superintendent Phillip Fox, whose district submitted a trial improvement plan last fall. “We're very excited about our improvements, and now have a plan for improvement for every single fourth-, sixth- and ninth-grader in our system.”

        Some of the changes already implemented in Lockland schools include adding full-time tutors at all three levels to hold sessions after school and on Saturdays, a full-time kindergarten, and giving seniors a laptop computer to bring home to do homework and use the Internet. Those students who meet state requirements on all five tests given to seniors get to keep the computer.

        Despite its “emergency” status, Lockland High School still showed enough improvements to land a $50,000 grant from the state. However, Mr. Fox said the state hasn't yet paid the money or given any guidance on where to spend it.

        Cincinnati also submitted a trial plan when unofficial report cards went out to districts last fall, and three district elementary schools received $25,000 grants for showing improvements. Deputy Superintendent Kathleen Ware said few changes will be made on the final version, especially because the district improved in 17 different areas and ranked highest among the state's eight major metro districts.

        “We're following the plan that we've had for the last four years methodically, carefully and tenaciously,” Ms. Ware said.

        Three Butler County districts were graded “academic emergencies,” including Middletown/Monroe Schools, which face a vote next week on whether to split into two separate systems. The Hamilton and New Miami systems also received the designation.

        “We don't like the label "academic emergency,'” said Wayne Driscoll, superintendent of the Middletown Monroe Schools. “We know we need to work harder. We accept the challenge of doing better and we're going to move on.”

        Mr. Driscoll said this year's proficiency test scores already show improvement over last year, particularly in fourth-grade reading, writing and citizenship.

        “We only missed the academic watch category by two criteria,” Mr. Driscoll said. He said a community meeting is scheduled Thursday to get comments about the district's improvement plan. “We've got the attendance now and I think we'll move into the next category when next year's report card comes out,” he said.

        Sue Kiesewetter contributed to this report.


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