Thursday, September 25, 2003

N. College Hill defies odds

State official salutes schools' strides

By Michael D. Clark
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[IMAGE] Ohio State School Superintendent Susan Zelman visited Clovernook Elementary Wednesday.
(Craig Ruttle photo)
| ZOOM |
NORTH COLLEGE HILL - Among Ohio's 612 school districts, this tiny Hamilton County school system caught the attention of the state's top education official, who Wednesday paid North College Hill schools its first visit from an Ohio superintendent.

What drew Susan Zelman to tour North College Hill, whose enrollment of 1,540 makes it the fifth-smallest among 22 Hamilton County districts - is its ability in recent years to make major academic strides despite its size and demographics.

Many of its students come from low-income families, with 45 percent eligible for federal assistance in purchasing school meals. In addition, a higher-than-state average number of students change home addresses during the school year.

Zelman praised NCH after quizzing Superintendent Gary Gellert about recent reforms that have helped raise the district's state rating of "academic watch'' to "continuous improvement," including school uniforms, free breakfast and extensive reading programs aligned with state standards.

"Schools can defy demographics and schools can make a difference if done well. Your scores show steady improvement and you are well on your way." She toured each of NCH's four schools, entering classrooms and sitting among students as they participated in lessons.

In Casey Volz's fifth-grade class at Clovernook Elementary Zelman listened as students were peppered with specific questions about a story they had just read. Correct answers earned a student a tiny "Skittle" candy. handed to them without fanfare from Volz.

"It's a way to incorporate fun into reading," said Volz.

Having Ohio's top educator sit among her students in class was an honor, Volz said.

Gellert touted the district's recent improvements despite spending less per pupil - $6,521 - than any other Hamilton County school system.

"All our efforts are aligned now," said Gellert of the standardization of teaching to match state education goals. "Our biggest support is now coming from our parents. They are thrilled when their children can already read while in kindergarten."


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