On its latest state report card, South-Western City Schools received an "excellent" rating after being listed as "continuous improvement" for six years, making its latest ranking the equivalent of jumping from a "C" to an "A."

On its latest state report card, South-Western City Schools received an "excellent" rating after being listed as "continuous improvement" for six years, making its latest ranking the equivalent of jumping from a "C" to an "A."

Ohio's school district report cards contain a dizzying array of indexes, indicators, calculations, criteria, standards and subgroups. South-Western's path through that maze to its excellent ranking centered largely on the goal of teaching more effectively.

For most of the history of American public education, that has been a goal easier said than done.

South-Western developed an edge with the idea of instructional coaches. They don't coach students; they coach teachers.

The idea was to use teachers with above-average teaching effectiveness to help other teachers.

Superintendent Bill Wise said such coaching can include observing teachers in action, providing feedback and demonstrating best practices. The coaches also assist aides, who are classified staff members.

The value of instructional coaches is better understood when considering that South-Western's large teaching staff is not static and unchanging. It's common to have 70 new classroom teachers each year; different staff members are at different stages of professional growth, Wise said. The staff also must adapt to changes in educational requirements, such as state tests.

The district has seven full-time literacy coaches, 15 full-time math coaches and 15 half-time literacy coaches. The instructional coach program has been supplemented with the use of federal dollars, mainly from Title I and II, and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

The South-Western district is getting its money's worth from the instructional coaching program. Teachers who receive the coaching participate even though they are not paid for 80 percent of their time spent in training.

"The staff is willing to put in hard work on student achievement," Wise said.

One element of the state report card is the "value added" measure, which measures how much students learn as they pass through different grades. The goal is one year's progress for one year's time.

Wise is proud that South-Western has averaged more than one year's progress per calendar year since value added became an element in the report cards.

Also on this year's report card, three South-Western school buildings - Darbydale Elementary, J.C. Sommer Elementary and Hayes Intermediate schools - were rated "excellent with distinction" this month.

Seven of the district's 30 schools earned "excellent" ratings and seven were rated as "effective."

All of this took place at a time when the school district cut nearly 400 positions in the preceding five years.

Wise said the district strives for continuing improvement and is not content to rest on its laurels.

The South-Western district's educators are to be commended for their excellent rating and dedication, and their creative approach to effective teaching.