Friday, July 14, 2000

Education chief calls Parham model school




By Andrea Tortora
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Two years ago, Parham Elementary in Evanston was one of Cincinnati's lowest-achieving schools. Less than 15 percent of its fourth-graders could write at grade level. Now the school, with a hand-picked staff, new curriculum and numerous community and university partnerships, is on the verge of being one of the city's highest achieving schools. Fourth-grade writing scores are up 24 percent.

        Parham's success makes it a model for other schools in the nation, U.S. Department of Education Secretary Richard Riley said Thursday.

        He was in Cincinnati as the keynote speaker for a state conference on schools as community centers, sponsored by the KnowledgeWorks Foundation and Procter & Gamble.

        “I am very proud of Parham school,” Mr. Riley said. “We need to make this the kind of school we want to promote and talk about.”

        Mr. Riley toured Parham on Thursday with Principal Sharon Johnson and Betti Hinton of Families Forward, a United Way Agency that offers homework assistance and after-school programs for students, parents and other community members.

        A parent-literacy class even helps parents learn to read so they can help their children with homework.

        Mr. Riley said he was impressed with how excited second- and sixth-graders were as they worked with teachers on reading and spelling. Parham uses the direct instruction method, in whch students react to teacher cues in unison with verbal responses and claps.

        Ms. Johnson said the school's new focus helps students.

        “Scores are up,” she said. “And this really helps their self-esteem.”

        Parham parent Holly Ferguson made it a point to tell Mr. Riley how the school helped her son, Micah, 7.

        After attending a magnet school for a year, Ms. Ferguson placed Micah at Parham. He entered at the second grade with poor reading skills. After three months, he could read at the second-grade level. By the end of the year, he was reading third-grade books.

        “My son loves school now,” Ms. Ferguson said. “He asks for homework, and sometimes I have to find other work for him to do at home when the homework is finished.”

        Through a five-year, $1.8 million federal grant from the U.S. Department of Education, Parham also partners with the University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati State Community and Technical College and Wilberforce University.

        The grant program is called GEAR UP, or Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs. The program aims to get children on the track to college by seventh grade.

        The school also has partnerships with the Urban League, Seventh Presbyterian Church, the Cincinnati Tennis Club and Citizens for Civic Renewal.

        If education is to be a priority, adults need to let students know that school buildings are also important, Mr. Riley said.

        He drove that point home in an address to several hundred school staff, community members and architects gathered at the Mayerson Academy in Corryville.

        Schools should form partnerships with senior citizens, who might be more likely to vote for levies if they are involved in a school, Mr. Riley said.

        And legislation pending in Congress could give Cincinnati schools $62 million in interest-free bonds. Mr. Riley is pushing for approval of $25 billion for school construction nationwide.

        “As a nation we have to build thousands of new schools and modernize thousands and thousands of old ones for years to come because of rising enrollments,” Mr. Riley said. “When you involve the community early on, they invest in the school in a very different way.”

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