Friday, March 24, 2000

6th District Elementary sets example

Covington faces criticism

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        COVINGTON — Learning is active and hands-on at 6th District Elementary School.

        Fourth-graders used cardboard pizza slices to study fractions in math Thursday afternoon. Fifth-graders painted with pastel chalk and oils, to imitate techniques created by Vincent Van Gogh, for art class. Sixth-graders created pottery during their arts and humanities period.

        This is exactly the kind of teaching and learning the state Education Department says is missing from most Covington classrooms. And it's the kind of educational environment Covington Board of Education members say they want to see in each of the district's eight schools.

        The board and school officials were to address these and other issues Thursday, following a state report criticizing Covington schools.

        The state's report, written by Community Relations Director Robyn Oatley, faults the district for creating a system of “haves and have nots” among students, putting more focus on advanced learners while leaving slower learners underserved. The problem is perpetuated by years of inconsistent leadership at the top, she said.

        The report has already stirred emotional reactions among parents, school board members, and business and community leaders.

        One of Ms. Oatley's main criticisms was that many teachers in Covington's schools rely too much on “passive” techniques — when students receive instruction from teachers — rather than active learning, in which students participate in the lesson, do the exploring themselves and teaching themselves by doing.

        The 6th District, though, was an exception. The state praised the district in the otherwise blistering report and used it to illustrate what other districts must do to improve overall student achievement and teaching methods.

        6th District's success comes from its teachers, not just its methods, said Principal Tony Ross.

        “You can have the best curriculum and the finest ma terials, but if you don't have excellent teachers, the students don't have the potential to succeed,” Dr. Ross said.

        The report called 6th District programs, leadership and teaching style assets that should be shared systemwide.

        “Administrators and teachers from all schools would benefit from shadowing staff at 6th District and implementing some of the teaching and learning strategies going on there,” Ms. Oatley wrote in her report.

        The atmosphere inside the school Thursday afternoon was one filled with excitement and a genuine willingness to learn. Brightly colored posters and examples of student work adorned most hallways and classroom walls.

        Students in Sally Mills' class nearly popped out of their seats to answer a visitor's questions about their Van Gogh art projects.

        “He liked to show you the paint strokes,” Justin Daley said of Van Gogh's style.

        Jasmine Horton, another student, said learning about art helps “get us ready for other things in life.”

        One of the report's criticisms was that too many elementary students were not getting art classes.

        Outside the classrooms, students walking through the halls formed semi-straight lines. Third-grader Shanece Miller stood at the front of the line, her left pointer finger to her lips, her right hand raised, palm open.

        This is called “Giving Five,” with each finger standing as reminders of expected student behavior: 1. Mouth quiet. 2. Hands free. 3. Eyes on the speaker. 4. Be Still. 5. Listen.

        When Dr. Ross asked Brandi Temple and Desha Elliott what they like about their school, the responses flowed fast: Basketball. The reading program. Awards for attendance. Girl Scouts. Sign language classes.

        The two third-graders weren't shy about mentioning needed improvements, too.

        “Our gym is too small,” Desha said. “One mile equals 35 laps.”

        The school opened in 1909. It now educates 515 students. An addition under construction will add seven classrooms, a cafeteria and more playground space.

        Parents and community members hope to raise $85,000 for playground equipment. Parents, residents and employees at Ashland Oil volunteer their time to help students read, discuss books and do other work.

        Dr. Ross said the school's mission is always to increase student abilities, a focus that came out of Kentucky's Education Reform Act, designed to give every child the same opportunity to learn.

        “Sometimes studies paint with a broad brush,” Dr. Ross said. “I think you can go into any school and see good and bad.”


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