By Sue Kiesewetter
Principal Robert Schmalz has one message he constantly tells his staff at Jacobs High School: These kids don't care what you know unless they know you care.
"It's one of the things we preach over and over at the beginning of each year to teachers," said Schmalz.
Living that message, and having curriculum aligned with state models, Schmalz says, helps his students meet state reading and math standards on the ninth-grade proficiency test. Jacobs, in Winton Terrace, and Garfield Junior High in Hamilton were the only two Southwest Ohio schools among 52 statewide to be recognized as "Schools of Promise" by the Ohio Department of Education.
The designation is meant to recognize schools with a poverty level of 50 percent or higher and where at least 75 percent of the students have passed the math and/or reading portions of the proficiency tests. At the two schools, overall student passage rates met the passing criteria for both tests.
"These schools demonstrate that demographics should not determine a student's academic destiny," said Ohio Superintendent of Public Instruction Susan Tave Zelman in a statement. "Students can achieve and succeed no matter where they live. These schools show promise for all students across the state."
To qualify for the award, the school had to meet seven criteria, including not being in "school improvement" status as determined by the No Child Left Behind Act.
At Jacobs, about 67 percent of the students come from low-income families, and many don't have strong support systems at home.
"We provide an environment of a caring staff involved with their students who don't teach as much as they engage their students," Schmalz said. "If you don't have a holistic view of the situation, you're not going to move the students to greater levels of achievement."
At Garfield, there is a strong belief that young people can be successful, and the staff works to make sure that happens for each student, said Principal Dennis Malone.
"We have people who want to work with urban youth," Malone said. "There is a more exact use of data to find strengths and weaknesses and develop plans to address weaknesses.''
Malone says he's become a crusader for reading, finding it's the biggest stumbling block his teachers face.
"We have a fairly large number of students not reading at their grade level," he said.
To address that, students needing assistance are put in an accelerated reader program, he said.
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