Wednesday, January 10, 2001

Marks mixed for Covington schools

One making significant improvement, state says

By Lori Hayes
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        COVINGTON — One of the city's struggling schools has shown tremendous improvement in recent months. Another has seen some success, while a third school has made little progress, according to state reports released Tuesday.

        Ninth District Elementary received high marks for strong leadership, parent involvement and improved instruction and teacher training.

        Holmes Junior High was commended for its initial efforts, including some changes in course offerings. However, the school is hindered by teacher turnover and lack of community involvement.

        John G. Carlisle Elementary was blasted for poor in struction and discipline, inadequate resources and inefficient leadership.

        The reports are the final three of five mandatory school reviews in the district's second round with state audit teams.

        “We knew that we would have a long road ahead of us,” said interim Superintendent Jack Moreland, who took the helm last summer after the district received a scathing state review in May.

        “We're very proud of the progress we've made. Every issue that has been highlighted as a deficiency we feel like is a manageable deficiency.”

Raising expectations
        A criticism that was found in all three schools' audit reports was that not all teachers have high expectations for all students.

        “We cannot accept that,” Mr. Moreland said. “We need to find out who those people are, and we either need to get them to embrace the belief that all children can learn or get them to move on.”

        All Covington schools were audited in May, at the request of the district. But after last fall's release of state test scores, five of Covington's eight schools fell into the lowest performance category, requiring another state audit.

        Glenn O. Swing and First District elementary schools were audited in mid-October. The results, released in November, praised First District for great progress, while Glenn O. Swing was criticized for poor teacher training, instruction and planning.

        This second round — on three different Covington schools — shows similar results.

        State audit teams visited Holmes Junior, Ninth District and John G. Carlisle in late October and early November.

What the audits measure

        The audits evaluate schools on nine standards in instruction, school environment and efficiency. Within those groups are 88 indicators, for which schools are given a ranking of novice, apprentice, proficient or distinguished. The state's goal is for all schools to be proficient.

        Ninth District received apprentice or proficient ratings on about 80 percent of the standards. John G. Carlisle was ranked as either novice or apprentice on nearly all of the 88 indicators. And Holmes Junior mostly ranked in the apprentice category.

        In all three audits, the district was commended for its efforts to align its curriculum with state standards. A five-day workshop was held last summer to develop the districtwide curriculum.

        However, more work is needed to help students move from grade to grade, auditors reported.

Similar criticisms
        Here are some criticisms found in all three audits:

        • School libraries are insufficient, without adequate resources for students and teachers.

        The district is already taking steps to improve its libraries. A private contractor was hired to audit every school library and pro vide training for librarians and media specialists, district officials said Tuesday.

        • Use of technology is limited.

        • Teacher evaluations aren't used to help teachers improve and don't provide consistent feedback or observation.

        District teachers and administrators are working to develop a new evaluation, expected to go to school board for approval in February, Mr. Moreland said.

        • School councils are unclear about their roles and responsibilities, with limited knowledge of policies.

        • Training for teachers doesn't always address student learning needs. More training is needed to help teachers with varied instruction strategies.

        The district has already organized several training sessions for this summer to address these concerns, said Lynda Jackson, a district administrator.

        • Schools' long-term plans are lacking, with little emphasis on student achievement.

        Every school is revising its long-term plan to focus on instruction and student performance, and new plans are expected to be finished this month, said Jeff Volter, a district administrator.

        While not all schools will progress at the same rate, building leadership is key in the schools' improvement efforts, Mr. Moreland said.

Strongest progress
        District officials said they were most pleased with the progress at Ninth District, at 28th and Indiana, which was praised for strong leadership, a positive school culture and meaningful parent involvement.

        State auditors gave high praise to first-year Principal Rick Ross for fostering a supportive environment for students and teachers.

        Teacher training has been refocused to better affect student performance, and teachers seek more training than what's required to improve their skills, the audit said.

        “Our teachers are working very hard to get kids what they need,” Mr. Ross said. “We've gone through this together, as opposed to taking a heavy hand.”

        While John G. Carlisle, 910 Holman St., was recognized for its schoolwide morning activities, an absence of interruptions to help protect the instructional day and a clean and orderly facility, “a significant number of the projected plans and intended actions have not been implemented” since the May review, auditors noted.

        Among the criticisms: Teachers don't use various instruction strategies to address different learning styles. Discipline is not uniformly enforced, and the school does little to encourage parent involvement. Teachers don't have adequate resources, and textbooks are outdated.

        Auditors pointed to poor school leadership as not “creating a positive learning environment.” Teachers need more feedback and communication from school administration, the audit said.

Turnover hampers Holmes
        Holmes Junior has made some improvement but has been held back by the instability of its staff, the audit said.

        With a new principal and several new and first-year teachers, the school needs to emphasize recruiting, training and retaining staff, auditors noted.

        The audit also recommended that the junior high, at 25th and Madison, have a separate staff and facility. The school shares a building and resources with the high school.

        Holmes Junior was commended for adding a critical thinking skills class, hiring an instructional technology teacher to help other teachers integrate technology into their lessons, expanding the advanced placement program and setting up an intervention assistance team formed to help troubled students.

        However, instruction is generally lacking.

        Many teachers are not certified to teach the class or grade they're teaching. Many lessons are still textbook-driven. Many lessons are not on grade level, indicating a need for remediation.

        The audit urged the district to bring together the elementary schools and junior high to help eliminate gaps in instruction so students are prepared when they get to Holmes Junior.

        The junior high was also criticized for little parent involvement. Auditors urged the school to develop a public relations plan to reach the community.


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