Sunday, January 14, 2001

Schools to hear plans for revisions

Struggling programs may be broken down

By Andrea Tortora
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Cincinnati's public high schools are like a tale of two cities, Superintendent Steven Adamowski says.

        There are magnet high schools where graduation rates top 95 percent and where a large majority of students pass the state's proficiency tests.

        Then there are the district's five neighborhood high schools - where dropout rates are as high as 65 percent and only 25 percent of students pass the Ninth Grade Proficiency Test by the 10th grade.

High School Restructuring Plan
Each school would have three ""preparatory academies” of 75 to 90 ninth- and 10th-grade students. Academics would focus on English, science, math and social studies.
   Each school would have a “senior institute” of 200 to 250 students. The institutes would be based on specific programs focused on core subjects to help students prepare for Ohio's 12th grade proficiency tests.
   Students in preparatory academies must meet district exit requirements before they can attend a senior institute.
Recommended senior institutes:
   • University Schools:
Traditional college preparatory studies.
   • Museum School: Program in partnership with the Museum of Natural History would focus on geology, paleontology, environmental and library science. Students would also learn museum skills including exhibit design.
   • K-12 Foreign Language School: Study of the history and culture of countries, with students studying one of nine languages (Chinese, French, Japanese, Arabic, German, Russian or Spanish.)
   • Information Technology School: Study and use of computers including troubleshooting and assembly.
   • 9-12 Military Academy: Program of military science, routines and discipline as well as core academic areas. Students would wear uniforms and be taught by military instructors.
   • Year-round/Virtual High School: All courses needed for graduation would be offered so students could make up classes here while enrolled in other senior institutes.
   • Paideia High School: Program based on Paideia method's critical thinking skills and student seminars.
        “That dramatically makes the case for high school redesign,” Mr. Adamowski said. “There are 100 little reasons why we shouldn't do this and there is one big reason why we should, and that's the current waste of life and life potential.”

        On Tuesday, Mr. Adamowski and his staff will present to the Board of Education plans to create small-model high schools within the district's five very large high school buildings: Aiken, Taft, Western Hills, Withrow and Woodward.

        The board heard preliminary ideas this summer, when a committee of parents, teachers, administrators and community members presented results of a lengthy study.

        This week's session aims to define how the high school restructuring will proceed.

        Some basics:

        • Walnut Hills, the School for Creative and Performing Arts, Hughes Center and Clark Montessori high schools are not part of the restructuring.

        • Schools would be organized into two components: a preparatory academy for ninth- and 10th-graders and a senior institute for juniors and seniors. Both components would be housed in the same building.

        • Tenth-graders would have to meet standards to advance to the senior institute, which would focus on core requirements of Ohio's 12th-grade proficiency tests.

        • Each school program would have its own individual curriculum, and with no more than 600 students.

        • Students would be able to attend any high school in the city.

        An in-house study found that two-thirds of the districts' 11,500 high schoolers are already attending schools outside their neighbor hood.

        “We wanted to see how much of a change it would be to allow open enrollment and it doesn't seem to be much of a stretch,” Mr. Adamowski said.

        The district will use more than $2 million in grants received by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the KnowledgeWorks Foundation to develop its plans. Part of that money will be used for teacher training in how to create new high schools. The rest will go to Aiken High School to develop the first preparatory academy.

        Aiken already organizes its ninth- and 10th-grade students in groups, where students remain with the same teachers for two years and receive extra help in reading and preparing for the state's proficiency exams, Principal Tom Higgins said.

        “We've had some progress with it because it fits well for our situation,” Mr. Higgins said. “One of the needs we had was to address the numbers. We are losing a percentage of students that don't make it to 11th grade.”

        Under the district's plans, senior institutes could take several forms - from traditional college preparatory programs to foreign language schools to a virtual high school and military academy.

        Exactly where these programs would be housed is not yet known.

        Although the committee that studied high school restructuring possibilities suggested specific programs for specific schools, the administration is taking a more general approach at this time.

        The district's discussions on facility improvements will also influence what happens, said Rick Williams, board of education president.

        The district is now assessing every school, taking note of renovation needs, space, and technology capability. The district now educates 11,500 high school stu dents. It has room for 14,000.

        An earlier study committee found that all five high schools need technology upgrades, air conditioning and new windows.

        Renovation estimates fall between $18.3 million for upgrades at Taft and $35.6 million for renovations at Withrow.

        Mr. Adamowski said he would like to see several preparatory academies and one senior institute in place next year, with more to follow in 2002-2003.

        Rick Beck, Cincinnati Federation of Teachers president, said he would like to see a full year of study and planning before any new schools are created.

        “I don't think you get the same kind of impact if you try to do one or two schools at a time,” Mr. Beck said. “It should unfold it all at once, so that when you actually unfold it everyone is ready and enthusiastic and there is a change in mentality in the high schools.”


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