Wednesday, June 13, 2001

Taft High students enter info-techno age

Career preparation is program's goal

By Jennifer Mrozowski and Cliff Peale
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        When students walk through the doors of Robert A. Taft High School after summer break, they will be able to learn skills such as Web page design and digital video production from teachers who work at Cincinnati Bell.

        Some will have their homes wired for Internet use — for free — and they will soon have opportunities for summer internships and permanent jobs at Bell and other high-tech companies.

        The new programming will be offered through a groundbreaking partnership between Bell and Cincinnati Public Schools that both hope will turn Taft, in the city's West End, into a 21st-century information-technology institute.

        Bell and CPS executives will announce the program this morning at the high school.

   • In ninth grade, students will enter a Preparatory Academy, focusing on core academic proficiencies needed to pass the Ohio Graduation Test. It will also include some information-technology basics. In the first, year, the academy will include more than 200 students in each class.
   • In 11th grade, some students will enter a Senior Institute. Students will choose among several specializations. Those include certification courses for various hardware and software specialties.
   • Teachers will make regular visits to Cincinnati Bell for instruction in technology applications.
   • Current Taft students and those living in neighborhoods served by the school will have enrollment preference.
        Not only does it raise the stakes of the business community's involvement in education — Bell's up-front contribution alone could top $300,000 — but it is CPS' most radical step yet in altering poor, mostly black inner-city schools plagued by low academic achievement and high dropout rates.

        “If we continue to do what we've always done, we were going to have the same result we've always had,” CPS Superintendent Steven Adamowski said.

        CPS officials hope the program can make education more relevant to students and curb a districtwide high school dropout rate of 49 percent.

        Jack Cassidy, president and chief operating officer at Cincinnati Bell, said the young people in the area around Taft High School “are not being educated to the point where they can be hired and they can be paid.”

        As part of the new program, Cincinnati Bell will:

        • Fund 10 scholarships of $5,000 each for post-secondary education for graduates of the new Taft curriculum.

        • Provide a Bell employee to mentor every student enrolled in the new curriculum.

        • Teach in the classroom — Cincinnati Bell executives will be instructors.

        • Employ 10 students who have finished 11th grade in summer internships.

        • Donate 100 laptop computers.

        • Equip the entire high school with wireless capability, putting it in the top 1 percent of schools nationwide, Mr. Cassidy said.

        • Wire homes of students with its ZoomTown high-speed service, and provide Cincinnati Bell Wireless telephones.

        • Provide preferential interview status for graduates of the program.

        • Outfit two “Cisco Labs” in the school. That will be the basis for the Cisco certification program, which certifies sets of skills including programming and code-writing.

        The average salary for technicians with Cisco certification with no college degree is $65,000, Mr. Cassidy said.

        “The technology and telecommunications industry has disenfranchised a large percentage of the people who could be our employees or customers,” he said. “The typical graduate of Taft High School today is not going to buy our Internet access.

        “So this is a very big deal to us.”

        The Taft program is part of a massive high school restructuring effort by Cincinnati Public Schools to bring the district's neighborhood high schools in line with the success of its specialty schools, such as Clark Montessori.

        Taft and Aiken high schools are the first to undergo the high school redesign. By the 2002-2003 school year, all of the district's five neighborhood high schools will be revamped.

        All the neighborhood high schools will offer three preparatory academies for freshmen and sophomores, providing a smaller group atmosphere with more personalized attention from teachers. Those academies will focus on academic course work to prepare students to pass state proficiency tests required for graduation.

        The schools will also offer a senior institute for juniors and seniors which provides a specialized course of training, such as international language study.

        In the newly named Robert A. Taft Information Technology High School, the specialized course of study for older students is information technology. Aiken's senior institute will offer course work that prepares students for college.

        Taft's preparatory academies will provide freshmen and sophomores with standard course work in math, science and history. But they will also be trained in information support and services, network systems, programming and software development and interactive media.

        Juniors and seniors will take courses heavily laced with technology and will focus a third of their time in learning information technology.

        District officials also are trying to meet the demands of businesses seeking qualified workers. Despite the nation's economic slowdown, an additional 900,000 workers will be needed to fill information-technology jobs this year, according to the Information Technology Association of America.

        Students will also work to obtain industry-standard certifications for jobs that reap salaries of up to $125,000 a year.


        Johnathan Holifield, vice president for New Economy Enterprise at the Greater Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce, who helped organize the program, said a technical high school was one of the recommendations of a task force on the new economy last year.

        The effort was well under way before April's riots, proving that corporate Cincinnati is not just seeking to soothe that racial tension, he said.

        “This is really progressive,” he said. “The more time and effort and development we put into this, the better it will be. It has the potential to really be a gem for the district.”


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