Friday, August 27, 2004

District savors top-tier rating

By Michael D. Clark
Enquirer staff writer


For the first time Reading schools in Hamilton County has joined the top-rated schools in Ohio.

Some facts about the 1,500-student district:

• Besides earning the state's top rating of "excellent," Reading has also met the federal No Child Left Behind standards for each of the two years the new standards have been in existence.

• Two years ago, Reading schools were rated "continuous improvement" and last year improved to "effective."

• Reading averages 16.6 students per classroom in its three schools and the district's cost-per-pupil is $8,400. About 31 percent of Reading's students come from families whose income is low enough to qualify for federal assistance for free and reduced-price school meals.

• Before March, Reading had not put a school levy on the ballot since 1997. The March 8.5-mill operating levy was overwhelmingly defeated and prompted Reading school officials to plan $1 million of personnel and program cuts for the next two school years should a November ballot issue - a 6.9-mill levy - be defeated.

READING - It's a tradition in this modest, close-knit community that many parents walk to the neighborhood elementary school to escort their children home after a day of classes.

"This is a family sort of city with a lot of hard-working people, and they want to see their kids succeed," said Reading school parent Trisa Lytle. "We may not have a lot, but we take pride in what we do have."

Now, parents here have something else to boast about:

Their schools are among Ohio's elite, having earned an "excellent" rating, according to the Ohio Report Cards released this week. Only 16 districts in four Southwest Ohio counties have earned that distinction.

Moreover, Reading rocketed to the Ohio Department of Education's top tier after earning only a "continuous improvement" rating two years ago, and then climbing to "effective" status last year.

One of the main reasons fellow school parent Shara McSwain moved her family from Clermont County to Reading last year was the 1,500-student district's growing academic reputation.

"Now I feel even better about my move. We're all very proud," said McSwain.

Parents, teachers, school board members and city officials invariably credit Reading Superintendent Scott Inskeep, a 22-year veteran of public education, for much of the turnaround. Inskeep became the district's leader in 2002 after the school system had been rocked by disputes that eventually led former superintendent Sherry Parr to file a lawsuit, which alleges sexual, gender and age discrimination, against the Reading Board of Education. The suit is pending.

But Inskeep deflected any credit, saying "you're only as good as the people around you."

Inskeep was a principal in Mason schools before coming to Reading as the high school principal.

He said the district's move two years ago to directly align its curricula with state guidelines and to use student data to track those who needed academic help has led to the district's rapid rise.

But Reading Board of Education member Bill Apking largely credits Inskeep's influence.

"He is a very strong leader. The teachers and parents respect him and he is a class guy," said Apking.

Robert Bemmes, mayor of this city of 11,252 residents, said the impact of the school's climb into academic excellence has repercussions beyond the schools.

"That excellent rating means everything to our city," said Bemmes. "We're trying to make our city as attractive as we possibly can and attract new businesses and young people to locate here. And nothing does that better than having an excellent school system. Our city schools are really the pride of our community."


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