Today’s schools are presented opportunities—and face challenges—like never before, and Greater Cincinnati schools continue to forge education’s future. “These are exciting times for Cincinnati,” says Mary Welsh Schlueter, CEO and Founder of Partnership for Innovation in Education (PIE), a local nonprofit aimed at bolstering educational institutions. “Cincinnati represents a hub of entrepreneurship when it comes to educational innovation.”
This hub—spanning all geographical corners and grade levels, including urban public, suburban public, private, and parochial schools—has attracted global interest. The programs highlighted here represent just a slim case sampling from a brimming pool of regional innovation for how Cincinnati has become head of the class.
Functioning like extra credit, value-added portfolio schools are designed to meet state requirements while specializing in an “extra” curriculum value. Cincinnati’s such schools offer focused avenues like the sciences, foreign languages, performing arts, and beyond.
In fall 2009, Hughes STEM High School embraced the nationally budding STEM model, a forward-thinking approach emphasizing the disciplines of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. “Hughes is the most ambitious and largest STEM school in the state,” says Virginia Rhodes, principal of Hughes’ 950-member student body. Students may apply to one of four STEM majors—Health Sciences, Engineering Futures, Digital Education, and Zoo Academy—which provide experiential learning to jumpstart college or career work. “U.S. students are not as aggressively competitive in math and science fields as our international counterparts,” Rhodes observes. “We’re making an effort to remedy that.”
Academy of Multilingual Immersion Studies (AMIS) cites a similarly global-minded goal: “Students have to be competitive in the global market,” says Sherwin Ealy, principal of AMIS, a school for kindergarten through eighth grade that integrates either French or Spanish languages into daily courses. “It’s very important that kids secure a foreign language. You have to have a broader prospective and broader communication skills.” AMIS made waves as the first immersion school in Ohio to be a member of the International Spanish Academies, a prestigious networking partnership with the Ministry of Education and Science of Spain.
The School for Creative & Performing Arts (SCPA), yet another value-added gem, is also no stranger to the spotlight. Starring in MTV’s 2009-2010 series “Taking the Stage,” SCPA merges a full college-preparatory curriculum with premier arts studies. President Obama noticed this standout program last November when 11 SCPA musicians were invited to perform at the White House.
“The ironic part about being an educator is that we’re the ones behind school walls telling kids they have to prepare for the real world, and we’re not the ones actually out working in it,” says William Sprankles, principal of Princeton High School. He’s referring to the importance of business-education partnerships, a paradigm that Cincinnati visionaries have advanced to new heights.
Princeton, for instance, established a unique partnership with Sharonville-based netTrekker, an international supplier of digital education tools. Weekly, all 65 netTrekker employees, including CEO Randy Wilhelm, journey to Princeton to engage with student CORE (Creating Opportunities for Relationship Enrichment) groups over relevant issues.
“It teaches kids how to be dynamic and culturally proficient; […] to interact with a teacher and a CEO of a company,” says Sprankles. “Our model is innovative because of the frequency, the degree, and the depth of the relationship we have with netTrekker.”
Also advancing the business-education model is The INTERalliance of Greater Cincinnati, a nonprofit collaborative that connects high-performing high school students with top-tier businesses. The goal, explains Executive Director Doug Arthur, is to reduce the “brain drain” of Cincinnati’s brightest young technological minds who seek post-college employment elsewhere during their young professional years.
And it’s not just students who benefit: “It’s also good for business, and it’s good for the workforce,” Arthur observes. The INTERalliance roster boasts 65 local businesses, including Great American Insurance, The Kroger Co., Procter & Gamble, GE, and Atos Origin, and 68 high schools, encompassing St. Xavier High School, Sycamore High School, Covington Catholic High School, and Lakota East and West High Schools.
“These kids just dazzle [the businesses],” Arthur says. “They change their expectations about what it means to get involved in the schools.”
In a digital age of perpetually “plugged in” students, Cincinnati schools are mastering the paradoxical task of simultaneously promoting and harnessing technology’s power.
Pioneering the technological frontier in 1996, Cincinnati Country Day School (CCDS) gained fame as the first U.S. school to implement a One-to-One Laptop Program. Today, CCDS evangelizes Tablet PCs—a more evolved generation of personal laptop-like computing—for each faculty member and student in grades 5-12. “Tablet PCs are the most powerful educational tools that exist,” says CCDS Director of Technology Robert Baker, who points to the digital on-screen-drawing ink feature as a major “game changer” from its laptop counterpart. The Tablet’s limitless supply of digital notebooks is so comprehensive that many classes are virtually paperless.
Hundreds of educators have flocked to CCDS’ quarterly Tablet PC conferences to glimpse the groundbreaking program. “We’re really seen as almost a lab for the rest of the world,” says CCDS Academic Dean Dr. Greg Martin. “Schools come because they’ve heard of what we’re doing and want to try to emulate what we have.” Per CCDS’ guidance, St. Ursula Academy commenced a 1:1 Tablet PC program in 2006.
Other area schools are taking similar technological strides. Last November, Oak Hills High School adopted an Open Access policy, a brave initiative permitting students’ personal electronic devices like smartphones and iPads in the classroom—when mandated by the teacher. “Our mantra is ‘technology is a part of us, not apart from us,’” explains Tracy Pirkle, director of curriculum and eLearning for Oak Hills Local School District. “Because students have access to their devices all the time, the collaboration and coursework doesn’t stop when the bell rings.”
Sustainability, energy efficiency, renewable resources: These are words that punctuate today’s increasingly earth-conscious conversations. Preparing students for adulthoods of green living begins with green learning during the school-age years, and Cincinnati is collectively becoming one of the greenest educational environments in the nation. The momentum toward eco-friendly classroom spaces and education shows no signs of slowing.
Cincinnati Public Schools undertook a monumental 11-year, $1.1 billion initiative to rebuild or renovate all 51 of its schools according to the United States Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards. The first fruits came in 2009, when Pleasant Ridge Montessori became the first LEED-certified public elementary school in Ohio. Quick behind are an additional 22 LEED-registered CPS buildings.
“The whole point of LEED is to try and provide a really healthy place for children to learn and teachers to teach,” says Paul Duffy, a glaserworks lead architect and principal in charge of Clark Montessori’s new building, opening in August 2011. Among Clark’s eco-friendly features are water-retaining green roofs and geothermal heating and cooling. More than 98 percent of Clark’s former building was reclaimed, much of it fed back into the new construction. Clark parent and design team member Sean McGrory points to the experiential learning perks of the new school: “Being able to use that as a learning tool about reusing and recycling is pretty powerful,” he notes.
West Clermont Local School District has also stepped up to the proverbial LEED plate with two new LEED-registered schools that opened in September 2010: Amelia Elementary and Withamsville-Tobasco Elementary School. West Clermont Director of Operations Ed Dyer speaks to the health and financial benefits associated with building to LEED standards, adding, “It’s also about setting the example for students that our environment is something we need to protect.”Illustration by Mark Allen MillerOriginally published in City Guide 2011.
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