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CPS writing new goals; fell short before

Ohanian Comment: When old goals fail, write new ones. Maybe I've just become too jaded, but this just strikes me as bizarre. I felt the same way when my English department was required to work on 'goals.' What was the point? The state had issued a set; we could buy a set. Everybody knew what needed to be done. Does writing a statement change this?

You can write the studdent will until the cows come home, and it don't mean a thing.

By Jennifer Mrozowski

Cincinnati Public Schools did not meet several key targets in its last strategic plan developed 10 years ago, but officials are confident they will achieve goals outlined in the district's newest plan.

"This is about life or death," Superintendent Rosa Blackwell said during a community forum last week. "I am confident we will be successful."

The strategic plan, which is now in draft form, will act as a guide for what students should achieve, how staff will be trained and how money will be spent for the next five years.

Having a document outlining goals is all the more necessary because the federal No Child Left Behind Act requires virtually all students to be proficient in math and reading by 2014.

Districts and schools that don't meet the targets face sanctions that include changing key staff or overhauling low-performing schools.

The district set goals that it believes will keep it on pace to meet those targets, said district spokeswoman Janet Walsh.

But if the district's last plan from 1996-2001 is any indication of future success, the school system may have trouble.

Consider some of the previous goals and their results:

The district expected 67 percent of ninth-graders would graduate within four years.

By 2001, the state report card shows that 57.6 percent had graduated.

The district aimed to have 50 percent of students pass the fourth-grade proficiency tests. State records show fewer than 30 percent passed citizenship, math, reading and science tests by 2001. Students exceeded the goal only on the writing test with 55 percent passing.

The school system expected 45 percent of sixth-graders to pass state tests. The district exceeded that goal only on the writing test.

Ten years since the plan was formed, the district has met all of those goals, albeit with different state tests in some cases because the state has been altering its assessments.

Officials say they have better odds at being successful with the new strategic plan.

"One difference between this plan and the others is that our standards and the state tests are much better aligned," Walsh said. "We are in a much better position to teach kids what will be measured on the tests."

When the district's previous targets were created, the state did not have specific guidelines that corresponded with what the state expected students to know at every grade level. The state now has such standards and says it has aligned them to state tests. Cincinnati Public Schools also aligned its teaching to the guidelines, Walsh said.

The new goals also reflect progress made over the last few years.

For instance, the district's proposal set a goal of having 95 percent of ninth-graders make it to graduation. The current graduation rate is 77 percent.

The schools also have retained some of the best concepts from the previous plan and expanded on those.

For example, the school system has refined its student-based budgeting system, which has schools create budgets based on the number of students they recruit and retain.

As in the previous plan, teachers will be asked to work in teams, now called professional learning communities, Walsh said.

Some pieces of the old plan are now being implemented. The previous plan called for rehabbed facilities to replace crumbling schools. Now, the district has a nearly $1 billion construction project, Walsh said.

The plan, which is expected to be completed by spring, will also include separate companion documents that will outline specifically how students and staff should work to meet the targets, Walsh said. It also calls for the creation of a community group to review the plan and make sure the district is progressing. District staff will be held accountable in their evaluations, she said.

Board member Rick Williams said he's not sure the plan will be successful.

"The board has only been presented with the vision statement of the plan, so I'm not familiar with all that the superintendent is proposing in the strategic plan," he said. "But I hope we will discover before there's any real commitment that there are some bold changes needed to really impact children positively."

The district has not fulfilled some past promises, including approving a system to pay teachers based on their performance. And it has not determined whether strategies - such as the district's system of school budgeting - actually work, Williams said.

School officials, meanwhile, have presented the plan to community, parent, civic, business and religious groups to get their input. No one has said the targets are set too high, Walsh said.

Ozie Davis III, a parent of a first-grader at Rockdale Academy in Avondale, last week attended a forum on the proposed targets.

"I'm really happy about the plan, the direction and the very high standards the district is putting on itself," he said. "It will definitely be a challenge, but I don't think it's unrealistic. And what's the alternative? Continue to be in academic emergency?"

E-mail jmrozowski@enquirer.com

— Jennifer Mrozowski
Cincinnati Enquirer


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