Thursday, March 08, 2001

Private firm could revamp high schools

Board expected to vote on hiring company

By Andrea Tortora
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The Cincinnati Board of Education is expected to vote Monday on whether to hire a private company to implement the redesign of two high schools.

        The board is considering two contracts with America's Choice, a private company that consults with schools and provides curriculum and special training for teachers. The two contracts could total $80,000 to $170,000; the board is still deciding on the specifics and the cost.

        If approved, America's Choice would work with parents and teachers from Aiken and Taft high schools, said Kathleen Ware, associate superintendent.

    The plan for Taft High School's information technology school:
    • Up to 125 of next year's 11th-graders can enroll. Taft students get priority and students from other schools can fill remaining slots.
    • Next year's 12th-graders cannot enroll, since the program is a two-year effort. A traditional high school program for 12th- and 11th-graders will also be offered next year.
    • Ninth- and 10th-graders will attend preparatory academies. Students from any district K-8 school can enroll.
    • Ninth- and 10th-graders interested in the information technology school can take basic programming and certification classes to prepare for the upper-level classes.
   Source: Cincinnati Public Schools
        High school redesign means turning the district's large high school buildings — Aiken, Western Hills, Withrow, Woodward and Taft — into places housing several smaller “learning communities.” The district's four magnet schools are not affected.

        Beginning in August, ninth- and 10th-graders will attend “preparatory acade mies,” where they will focus on the basics of reading, writing, math and science.

        Then they can get promoted to the “senior institute” of their choice for 11th and 12th grade. The institutes specialize in such subjects as information technology, university preparation and vocational education, and one could be a military academy.

        The first of these senior institutes, an information-technology school, will open in August at Taft High. Students who graduate from the two-year program would be able to get jobs in computer networking, programming and information support services.

        America's Choice helped redesign Washington Irving High School in New York, where district officials visited in February. Later this month Cincinnati will travel to an America's Choice high school in Inez, Ky.

        The company sells its curriculum, which is based on federal and state proficiency requirements, and its teacher training.

        “They are the best and most comprehensive reform models available,” Ms. Ware said. “They bring curriculums in math and English that we don't have. Their programs are aligned with the state standards.”

        The company has a different program it sells to elementary schools. In Cincinnati, Windsor, Bond Hill and Chase elementaries use it.

        The district is paying for the redesign with $144,000 from a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and $144,000 from a federal Small Learning Communities grant.

        The district also is working with General Electric, Cincinnati Bell, the University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati State Technical and Community College and the Greater Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce.

        It will take a few years before preparatory academies and senior institutes are set up for all the schools.

        Cincinnati Federation of Teachers President Rick Beck said he wants unionized teachers to be trained and eventually hired to teach in the new program.

        “Definitely in terms of the large picture there is a need for this,” Mr. Beck said.

        “We don't have people right away who are prepared to teach these classes, but I would hope the district would invest in our people.”


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