Three Columbus high schools that bucked a trend are worthy of celebration and should probably be consider a model for others, according to a report issued by a nonprofit organization focused on improving public education in Ohio.
In spite of relatively high rates of poverty among the families of students at Centennial, Columbus Alternative and Eastmoor Academy high schools, the youngsters "beat the odds" by earning all A's and B's on the state report card, the KidsOhio.org report states.
Statewide, only 29, or 11 percent, of all 263 high schools where a majority of students can be classified as economically disadvantaged achieved that same result for 2012-13 academic report card, the document stated.
"These schools in their own way show that students from low-income families can perform at high levels," Mark Real, president of KidsOhio.org, said last week.
KidsOhio.org was created in 2002 in response to community, education and business leaders who wanted an effective, data-driven, nonpartisan organization focused on improving public education in Ohio, according to an announcement that accompanied release of the report.
The organization is funded by the private sector and does not accept any government funding or contracts.
KidsOhio.org's mission is to improve the education of Ohio's nearly three million children, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, according to the release.
The report not only highlights the achievements at the schools but also, through interviews with the principals, identifies reasons for them.
"All have poverty rates ranging from 55 percent to nearly 70 percent, but economically disadvantaged students at these schools are consistently beating the odds on the state's 10th grade math and reading tests," the announcement stated.
"Additionally, in all three schools, students of color are the majority," according to the report.
The factors cited by principals Fran Hershey at Centennial, Sharee Wells at Columbus Alternative and Anthony E. Alston at Eastmoor Academy included:
* A clear goal of preparing all students for college.
* Long-serving teachers and principals.
* Expectations parents will be engaged in their students' education.
* Positive peer pressure among students to achieve academically.
* Parental choice to enroll students in these schools.
* Strong relationships among students, teachers and principals.
"I don't think there's any magic bullet," Hershey said in an interview last week. "Each school has its own climate and the success depends on everyone using their own approach."
"Our entire community is always very excited to be recognized for the hard work of our students and staff," said Wells, a 1996 graduate of the school she now leads.
"Each of these schools has a history of long-serving principals and teachers," Superintendent J. Daniel Good was quoted as saying in the announcement.
"That is why the district reduced the number of principal transfers this year in order to help more principals build long-term relationships with teachers, parents, students and the community."
In fact, stability among the teaching staff and school principals was mentioned as one of the most important factors, according to KidsOhio.org.
"For example, Centennial High School has had the same principal for 13 years, a rarity in urban schools. Teachers told KidsOhio.org that this has made it easier for them to make a long-term commitment," according to the announcement
Two years ago, 39 city schools had new principals at the start of the academic year, a figure that will be down to 25 for 2014-15, according to Real.
"I think the district's making a good faith effort to reduce the number of principals who are transferred by the central office," he said.
What all three schools have in common, according to Wells, is a "common sense of a common purpose with a laser-like focus of high expectations."
"With any situation, no matter the school, people in general rise to the expectations in front of them," she said.
"I think the first thing is to have a clear goal," Real said.
"These schools are very different from each other, but they all have a goal of preparing young people for college."
"We want to make sure that our students are ready for college or careers," Hershey said.
"We've gotten very positive response to this report," Real said.
"For example, we've gotten a number of emails and phone calls from principals of other schools, and they said, 'Thank you for highlighting the good work. We're going to look at this for ourselves.' "
"One thing I truly appreciate about being in this district, we are all very supportive of one another," Wells said.
The complete KidsOhio.org report is available at http://www.kidsohio.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/SchoolsreportFINAL062014reducedsize.pdf.