Columbus aims to increase graduation rate

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With the Columbus school district reaching "continuous improvement" status on the state report card, Superintendent Gene Harris outlined at her Oct. 4 State of the Schools address the goal of a 90 percent graduation rate by 2012.

A bond issue and operating levy are also on the horizon.

"So here is the question – where are we today? I’m glad you asked that question," said Harris, amid chuckles of an audience that included Ohio First Lady Frances Strickland and Mayor Michael Coleman. "Thanks to the efforts of so many people here this evening, I’m pleased to report that as of Aug. 14, the Ohio Department of Education announced the district has earned a Continuous Improvement rating."   

Harris said the district deserved that rating, as it was the result of the hard efforts of many teachers, principals, support staff and administrators. She went on to explain that the district had a Performance Index score of 80.5 and met all 42 of the federal standards for Adequate Yearly Progress, which earned the district the Continuous Improvement rating.

Performance Index is a measure of the academic progress of all tested third through eighth-grade students, while Adequate Yearly Progress is a measure of how school districts throughout the country are performing academically, as defined by the No Child Left Behind Act.

"Together, our efforts will be focused on maintaining these gains, continuing the steady improvement we’re showing at all grades and all levels. Our next focus in a nutshell is Project 2012. I’m telling you, with the steady progress we’re making, it’s working," said Harris.

Project 2012 is one of Harris’ long-term goals, to reach and exceed a graduation rate of 90 percent of their student population. Harris said that while the district’s graduation rate has gone up to 72.9 percent, which is an increase of 17.9 percent since 2001, the district is committed to seeing the graduation rate reach 90 percent.

"You know we have all (continuing education) and support staff from kindergarten through grade 12 with one vision and one goal – a diploma in the hand of every child we serve," said Harris.

Harris said that while the district was focused on improving academically, they also made strides towards improving business practices and state audits, which paid off with improved bond ratings.

Harris said that because of these improvements, the district was even able to get lower interest rates, which in turn saved the district and taxpayers millions.

"We told you we would continue to improve the academic performance of our students and the graduation rates. With the bond issue and the operating levy, we brought strong fiscal oversight. The Columbus Board of Education and I made that promise and we have kept that promise," said Harris.

According to Harris, because of the uncertain funding issues on the horizon and the state of the economy, an operating levy will probably be introduced in 2008. She also thinks it is equally likely that a bond issue will find its way onto a 2008 ballot, in order to complete phase three of the Facilities Master Plan.

"I don’t need a crystal ball to predict that future requests for operating capital funds will be an uphill battle," said Harris, "We will only be successful by continuing to invite parents to participate in their children’s learning process. To involve community partners, public and private, whenever appropriate and invite initiatives that leverage all our resources in support of each child’s achievement."

Harris reported that the district has 14  of the newly built or renovated schools open, some of them opened just this fall, thanks to the 2002 bond issue. Nineteen additional buildings are under construction, some of which include buildings that got new roofs, new windows and new boilers for the ‘Warm, safe and dry’ program.

"We just want to report to you that we are making good progress in getting these buildings up, on schedule, on time and on budget," said Harris.

Harris also made a point to answer the question of why it is now called Columbus City Schools, rather than Columbus Public Schools.

"Well first of all there is a shift in mind-set. You’ll see the CCS and the new logo, matching the new profile, now being held as representative of the kind of education all Columbus City Schools offer. This change in name and logo will be done in a gradual and cost-effective manner," said Harris.

In a statement, Harris praised the various sections of the Columbus community that have made partnerships with CCS and helped form programs such as Project Mentor, Higher Education Partnership and the DeVry Advantage Academy. These programs benefit the district in five essential areas: school environment, attendance and enrollment, school facilities and construction and planning for the future.

"We would not have been able to make the progress we’ve made this far without a true team effort," said Harris.

Coleman took the opportunity at the address to express his sentiment about the progress CCS has made, as well as his thoughts on partnerships.

"We all know that education is everybody’s business, that’s why we’re all here. We work best when we work in partnerships, practical partnerships to lift up our young people. And we know in Columbus Public that they are making a difference, going from academic emergency to continuous improvement," said Coleman, "We know when we work together, that’s when we work best."

Harris emphasized one of the other reasons for this address was just to say thanks to the community for their support and assistance.

"John Dewey said ‘Education is not preparation for life; it is life.’ I am pleased and overjoyed to be a part of an enterprise that’s helping to give our students life and assist them in reaching their aspirations," said Harris.

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