Sunday, March 18, 2001

West Clermont plans overhaul

Choices to expand with emphasis on special fields of interest

By Cindy Kranz
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        UNION TOWNSHIP — When 1,126 Glen Este High School students received their report cards last semester, 42.6 percent had a grade-point average of 2.0 or less.

        In West Clermont School District's senior class of 372 students, there are no National Merit semifinalists or finalists. A class of that size typically has five.

        If recent graduation trends continue, 15 percent of this year's freshman class won't receive a diploma.

[photo] Glen Este High School teacher Jon Souders leads students (from left, Courtney Hash, Jimmy Jeffers and Chris Stultz) in a science project on school grounds. The West Clermont district plans to convert Glen Este and Amelia high schools into smaller, more specialized institutions.
(Dick Swaim photo)
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        Armed with those sobering statistics, the district is crafting a plan to convert its two high schools, Amelia and Glen Este, into small public schools of choice. Starting in fall 2002, students will choose a small school that focuses on a specific field of interest.

        The high school redesign will result in such sweeping changes that Superintendent Michael Ward, a 32-year educator, is personally spreading the message at each of the district's 12 schools, and at community and PTO meetings.

        “Average is not good enough,” Dr. Ward told the Glen Este Middle School PTO on Tuesday. “The alarming thing, for me, is the acceptance of mediocrity in our community.”

        Why settle for average, he asked, when the district's students are capable of higher academic achievement?

        What's more, he said, every child should be personally known by at least one school employee. That's difficult in large schools where it's hard to spot troubled kids.

        The district began creating small high schools, as part of its continuous improvement plan, in April 1999. The Ohio Department of Education report cards rank school districts in one of four categories — academic emergency, academic watch, continuous improvement and effective. The ratings are based in part on proficiency test scores.

        A committee at Glen Este last year researched small-school models and began planning to restructure. Amelia High School began its process this year and is testing a freshman academy that focuses on basic education requirements for half of its ninth-graders.

        West Clermont's efforts to retool high school education attracted the attention of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The foundation gave the district $796,000, which was matched by Corning Precision Lens. West Clermont and Cincinnati Public Schools share $250,000 from KnowledgeWorks to foster community involvement.

        The biggest hurdle facing the district, Dr. Ward said, is convincing the community that the plan is not set in stone. The district doesn't know what the final product will look like.

        Here's what it does know

        • Each high school will have three to five “schools” of academic interest, such as the arts, but those themes have not been decided. A student could attend the high school where his or her area of interest is offered.

        • Freshman and sophomore years will concentrate on core curricula, while junior and senior years will be driven by the student's area of interest.

        • The schools are not vocational or career schools. Each school will require 22 credits for graduation.

        • Enrollment in the small schools of choice would range from 300 to 450 students. Current enrollment is 1,200 at Amelia and 1,137 at Glen Este.

        • Amelia and Glen Este high schools will retain their identities, traditions, sports teams and other extracurricular activities.

        The public will get its first look at a draft plan at two community forums 7 p.m. April 26 at Amelia High School, and 7 p.m. May 2 at Glen Este High School.

        “Our hope is that these won't look like traditional schools,” said Sue Showers, project director for West Clermont's high school redesign project.

        By August, the community will know what the schools will look like. The district will then start gearing up for opening in fall 2002.

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