Sunday, April 18, 2004

More parents turn to charters


Seeking better academic quality and a more secure environment

By Jennifer Mrozowski
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[photo]
Teresa Barber sits next to her 12-year-old son, Jermaine Rashad Swain, in his classroom at the T.C.P. World Academy on Ridge Road. Mom has seen a turnaround in her son's attitude toward school since she enrolled him there.
The Cincinnati Enquirer/ERNEST COLEMAN
Prospects of better academics and safer schools are two reasons parents say they leave Cincinnati Public Schools.

The district, which lost more than 13 percent of its population in the past four years, faces a declining birth rate and fierce competition from charter schools and higher-performing suburban districts.

Areas like West Chester, which has one of the top-rated school districts in Greater Cincinnati, can't build schools fast enough to accommodate booming school enrollments.

Charter schools, which are public schools run by parents, community groups, for-profit companies and other agencies, are thriving. Their enrollment is up to 5,500 from around 250 in 1998.

International College Preparatory Academy, a charter school in Mount Auburn, opened in September and already has 510 students, most from Cincinnati Public Schools, said Jose Afonso, director of governmental affairs for Minnesota-based Sabis Educational Systems Inc. Sabis Inc. runs charter schools across the country.

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The academy's success comes despite a controversy between the school's former board and its management company two years ago that forced the school, then called Sabis International School, to close in September 2002.

Bur parents returned in droves.

Afonso says those parents want more discipline, order and better academic performance than Cincinnati Public, rated in "academic emergency" by the state for its low test scores and graduation rates.

"By enrolling their child in a public charter school, they are in essence expressing dissatisfaction with what they are getting in the local public schools," he said.

The charter academy offers a strong emphasis in math and English and Spanish beginning in kindergarten, he says.

It's too early to compare test scores there, but many charter schools in Cincinnati don't fare well academically. Last year, nine of Greater Cincinnati's 17 charter schools rated in academic emergency, the lowest of five state rankings. Six schools weren't rated.

T.C.P. World Academy in Pleasant Ridge was one of the highest-rated charter schools. The school has 310 students.

Teresa Barber of North College Hill said she's thrilled she moved her son, Jermaine Swain, there two years ago.

"I'll go broke sending my child to parochial schools before I send my children to Cincinnati Public Schools," she said.

Jermaine attended several Cincinnati schools, including Woodford Paideia, Hyde Park, Pleasant Ridge and Silverton before T.C.P.

"I just could not find a teacher willing to work with him," she said, admitting that her 12-year-old had trouble paying attention in class. "But T.C.P. was pretty much able to turn him around in his attitude toward school."

She said he went from C's and D's to mostly B's.

Dave Cox, of Monfort Heights, said he removed his daughter from Cincinnati's School for Creative and Performing Arts in Pendleton, after a shooting near the school. The surrounding area of Over-the-Rhine is the most violent and dangerous neighborhood in the city.

Kristin, now a sophomore at Colerain High School in Northwest Schools, attended the arts school for more than a year. Her family paid tuition for the specialty arts program because she didn't live in the district.

But crime in the surrounding area was too much for them.

Kristin, 15, said she misses her friends but likes that her new school offers more clubs and extra-curricular activities. But mostly, she says the location allows her to concentrate more on school.

"It feels a lot safer to be outside of Cincinnati," she said.

But some Cincinnati Public Schools parents swear by the district and the education their children receive.

Jenny French, a Mount Washington resident, has four children at Sands Montessori School, also in Mount Washington.

French loves the school's teachers and after-school offerings, like French, drama and karate.

French said she frequently compares her children's test scores with averages of students in higher-achieving school districts, and her children rank better.

She's convinced Cincinnati Public is the best place for her family.

"My kids are getting a fabulous education," French said. "It's amazing what they're learning. You can't find a better group of teachers anywhere."

E-mail jmrozowski@enquirer.com




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