Saturday, November 8, 2003

New Miami Schools show how it's done

By Sue Kiesewetter
Enquirer contributor

NEW MIAMI - Susan Tave Zelman knew good things were happening at the New Miami Schools.

That's why the Ohio superintendent of public instruction agreed to spend election day at Butler County's smallest school district, which also is one of its poorest..

By day's end, Zelman understood how the district's 865 students had gained 221 points on Ohio's proficiency tests from 2000 to 2001, and how the district had advanced from academic emergency (meeting only four standards on the Ohio Report Card) to continuous improvement (meeting 14 standards) in three years.

"You've taken the best of good basic education and the best of progressive education and married them to bring up test scores," Zelman said.

The change, said Superintendent Robert "Bud" Bierly, began in 1999, when voters approved a bond issue to help pay for the K-12 building all students in the district now attend. When it opened last year it became the hub of the community.

During that same period, a new administrative team was put together and curriculum was matched up with grade-by-grade content standards from the state. And teachers put together a planning "bible."

It impressed Zelman, who vowed to use it as an example for other districts.

"There was a lot of skepticism that our kids could perform. We restored the belief that kids could learn. We changed attitudes," Bierly said. "I think you're going to see the pride now, the thrill of the community, the teachers, the kids."

Nine-year-old Kaylee Philpot said she was surprised that Zelman wanted to play a game with her in her fourth-grade classroom.

"It made me feel special," Kaylee said. "She could go anywhere else, but she came here."

Zelman said the New Miami Schools are a shining example of how schools can defy demographics - more than half of the elementary students are from low-income families - and meet high expectations if given the right curriculum and a high-quality teaching staff.

"We should stop blaming the victims, the parents, the teachers," Zelman said. "These people are teaching to the kids."

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