Monday, August 26, 2002

City opens high schools within schools

By Jennifer Mrozowski
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Uniforms won't be the only thing to set apart about 200 Withrow University High School freshmen from the decades of classes before them.

        Many starting classes today will already know each other, having spent a month going to school this summer to ready themselves for the rigors of high school. Most will take Latin this year. Most will be in classes that separate boys and girls on the Hyde Park campus.

  Cincinnati Public Schools isn't the only district opening today. Here's a look at opening dates for other Tristate districts:
  • Today: Fairfield, Forest Hills, Indian Hill, Lockland, Mount Healthy, New Miami, Northwest, Princeton, Sycamore, Springboro, Three Rivers and Winton Woods.
  • Tuesday: Carlisle, Clermont Northeastern, Finneytown, Fort Thomas, Loveland, Madeira, Middletown, Monroe, Milford, Ross, Southwest, Talawanda, Wayne and West Clermont.
  • Wednesday: Kenton County, Norwood.
  • Thursday: Reading.
  • Sept. 3: Goshen, Lakota, Mariemont and Mason.
  • Sept. 9: Bethel-Tate.
        And they will be exposed to a college-preparatory curriculum, having had their summer program on Xavier University's campus.

        “Putting them on a college campus already gets them exposed to what a college campus not only looks like but is like,” said Principal Sharon Johnson.

        That's the whole idea - getting kids on a track to college. But it's not happening only at Withrow's University High School.

        The University school, one of three schools on the Withrow High School campus this year, continues Cincinnati Public Schools' experiment to overhaul the district's low-performing high schools. The district is opening five smaller high schools today inside existing high school buildings citywide.

        This is the second year big-city schools averaging 1,200 students are being broken down into smaller schools-within-schools that will eventually have about 600 kids each.

        The new programs include an entrepreneurship school, an international studies school, two college preparatory schools and a design technology school.

        “We embarked on this because we weren't getting the results we wanted,” said board of education member Sally Warner. “Students were dropping out at rates that were unacceptable.”

        District officials said they couldn't continue with the status quo, where just 51 percent of the district's high school students made it to graduation. The graduation rate for the 2000-01 school year in the 42,000-student urban district increased to nearly 58 percent.

        “I believe this will drastically reduce the dropout rate,” said Sue Taylor, president of the Cincinnati Federation of Teachers union. “This experiment with smaller high schools will help teachers to better reach the students. It'll be more of a familial setting, and teachers will have more of an opportunity to engage students in meaningful ways.”

For now, freshmen only

        The new schools continue what began last year as a radical transformation of the West End's Taft High into an information technology school. At the same time, Aiken High honed its makeover into a college-preparatory school.

        Two of the new specialty schools will be housed at Western Hills in Price Hill, two will be at Withrow and one at Jacobs High School in Winton Place.

        The new schools will be made up of only freshmen this year and will add grades every year until they became full high schools. Inside the schools, teachers will work in teams with small groups of about 100 ninth-graders. Those same teams will stay together in 10th grade.

        “The teachers will have fewer students,” Ms. Warner said. “When a teacher has five bells and 30 kids in each bell and 150 students, the system doesn't allow them to be more personal. The system didn't work for students or teachers.”

        The new system will allow teachers to be address kids' individual needs, she said.

        Each school's campus also will have traditional continuation programs for the sophomores, juniors and seniors.

        Philanthropic organizations and the federal government are helping to pay for the new schools' start-up. The district also received millions in grants from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Cincinnati-based education philanthropy KnowledgeWorks Foundation.

        The thousands of students starting classes today probably won't be thinking about who paid for their new programs. They'll more likely be thinking about the friends they'll make, the classes they'll take and the projects they'll do in these new schools. The programs include:

        The Withrow International High School. The school is geared toward students who have an interest in international issues and want a college preparatory program. They'll have a choice between the International Language Program, International Baccalaureate Program, the International Business Program, and the English as a Second Language Program.

        The Withrow University High School. The school partners with Xavier University and uses a college-track curriculum. Students will wear uniforms, be able to take courses for college credit at nominal fees and will have a community-service requirement.

        The Entrepreneurship High School at Jacobs High. The school will require core academic subjects, as well as offer business courses such as advertising, market research, record-keeping and banking.

        The Western Hills University School. The school joins up with Project Grad, a national school reform model to help students graduate. Students will take a college-preparatory curriculum and will be able to take courses for college credit. Those who maintain at least a 2.5 grade point average in a college track curriculum and who are ready to graduate on time will receive college scholarships by the end of their senior year through Project Grad.

        The Western Hills Design Technology High School. The school will require core academic courses, as well as offer a project-based pre-engineering curriculum. The school will help prepare students to pursue careers in engineering or engineering technology, such as design, computer, mechanical, civil, electrical, electronic, chemical or aeronautical engineering.

        Fourteen-year-old Samuel Weems, who's attending the Western Hills University School, said the college preparatory school with its Project Grad component was the best option for him. He already received a free refurbished computer, along with about 50 other students, through Project Grad for attending a three-week summer program.

        “I'll have better opportunities for myself later in life,” he said. “They even give you money for college.”

        Samuel, the son of a Cincinnati Public Schools teacher, knows all about college, since he and other incoming Western Hills freshmen visited several nearby campuses this summer, including Xavier University and the University of Dayton.

        “I wouldn't think we would go to college this early in our freshmen year,” he said. “It was surprising. It makes me more likely to go.”

        Principals in the overhauled schools talk about the inventive programs they'll use to get kids newly motivated about the same old courses.

        “One of the things that's missing in a lot of education is that students don't really understand how their academics are related to what their interests are,” said Herbert Smitherman, a new principal at the Western Hills Design Technology High School.

        Mr. Smitherman was a research chemist and manager at Procter & Gamble for 29 years.

        “When I talk to talk to kids, I don't really talk to them about engineering and technology so much. I ask them what kinds of things there interested in,” he said. “Are they interested in making their own toys? Are they interested in putting things together to make new things? Do they wonder who designed their tennis shoes?”

        If students are interested in those things, Mr. Smitherman said, he'll tell his students there's a way to pursue those interests through engineering and engineering technology.

        At the Entrepreneurship High School, students will be able to build projects, such as a home security system, that they then will be able to sell.

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