Sunday, March 18, 2001

CPS ready to begin

Goal: Limit high schools to 600 students, add academies and institutes

By Andrea Tortora
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        How Cincinnati Public Schools redesigns its high schools will shape the way thousands of city students learn and are prepared for work and college.

        The goal is to reduce dropout rates as high as 65 percent and improve achievement. Only 25 percent of students pass the Ninth Grade Proficiency Test by the 10th grade.

        Getting everything completed isn't easy.

[photo] Bryan Meade, 18, a senior at Taft High School, works on refurbishing a computer for use in Cincinnati Public Schools. As part of the district's redesign, Taft will introduce an information-technology institute this fall.
(Tony Jones photo)
| ZOOM |
        “Our neighborhood schools have not been adequately meeting the needs of the students,” spokeswoman Jan Leslie said. “We have a system that is large and unwieldy and we believe we can better serve students in smaller settings where teachers get to know them better.”

        Cincinnati is using a model that creates high schools of 600 students or fewer, with academies that teach freshmen and sophomores the basics. Institutes for juniors and seniors will offer more specialized training.

        From the Gates Foundation — established by Microsoft founder Bill Gates and his wife, Melinda Gates — Cincinnati received $1.9 million for work at Aiken, Taft, Western Hills, Withrow and Woodward high schools. The district also will share with the West Clermont School District $250,000 from KnowledgeWorks, a Cincinnati-based education philanthropy, to foster community involvement.

        Faculty and staff at each of Cincinnati's five neighborhood high schools two years ago began developing plans for smaller schools, a change from high schools that now educate more than 1,000 students each.

        There could be more than one school inside Aiken, Taft, Western Hills, Withrow and Woodward. Students would be able to attend any high school in the city.

        • Taft will offer the first senior institute this fall with an information-technology school designed to prepare students for careers in computer programming, networking and repair.

        • Aiken will offer preparatory academies in August. The school will spend the 2001-02 year planning for a university prep senior institute.

        • Staff at Western Hills, Withrow and Woodward high schools will spend the 2001-02 school year planning to open preparatory academies and senior institutes in the 2002-03 school year. University prep, an international school and a vocational school are among the options.

        Taft teacher Steve Hawley said the information-technology school is about empowering students. Computer repair and programming classes already in place at the school netted one student a full-time job at Pomeroy Computers. Another student works one day a week training district teachers and students in computer and Internet skills.

        “It really is a good way for youth to get a leg up on a job and other opportunities for after high school,” Mr. Hawley said. “And they will have even more opportunities if they choose to go on to college.”

        The Gates Foundation money is a three-year grant for training teachers and planning.

        To keep the process moving, the district wants to hire a private consultant to train teachers and help create a curriculum aligned with state standards.

        That move stalled last week when school board members expressed apprehension at how much latitude Washington, D.C.-based America's Choice, a private firm that runs school districts, would get in restructuring high school programs.

        “There is a need for an outsider because we do not have on staff people who have expertise or time to develop and work with staff at those schools to develop curriculum units,” board member Harriet Russell said.

        There are also plans to hire a “high school redesign director” to help coordinate the restructuring activities.

        But board members want to know more. When the contracts expire, for example, does the district have money on hand to continue what America's Choice will start? Can it afford needed materials and supplies?

        Those questions remain.

        “This was developed to implement over time,” Ms. Leslie said. “We expect it would probably take four to five years.”



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