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Elementary Initiative

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Cincinnati Public School's Elementary Initiative (EI) — a comprehensive strategy to improve performance in CPS' lowest-performing elementary schools — is becoming a national model for producing results.

The rise in students' academic achievement credited to the Elementary Initiative has helped move Cincinnati Public Schools up in state ratings. CPS earned an Effective rating on both the 2009-10 and the 2010-11 Ohio Report Card from the Ohio Department of Education — the highest rating ever achieved by an urban district in Ohio.

Ohio Report Card

2009-10 Results
2010-11 Results

The Elementary Initiative began with a promise, in September 2008. Mary Ronan, newly named as interim superintendent, declared of the district's low-performing schools that "these children no longer will languish in a system where they can go from kindergarten through eighth grade in a school that has never met federal guidelines for what makes a good school."

Sixteen CPS schools that had struggled academically for years were targeted for the Elementary Initiative program.

At the time, 13 of the targeted schools were rated in Academic Emergency, the lowest school rating from the Ohio Department of Education, and three were in Academic Watch, just one rank better.

Elementary Initiative strategies include:

  • Comprehensive audits of each school
  • Realignment of resources to address the needs of individual children
  • Success Plans for each child
  • An intensive focus on mathematics and reading, including a change in the way reading is taught in grades 4-8
  • A summer program named "Fifth Quarter," which extended learning time by a month at each EI school, and expanded early childhood programs including a kindergarten-readiness program for at-risk 4-year-olds.

It quickly became obvious, however, that culture change would not happen without outstanding leadership at each school.

Taking the Lead from Successful Business Turnarounds

That led the district, with support from the GE Foundation, to the University of Virginia's (UVA) "Turnaround Specialist Program."

This program was developed and is delivered by the Darden/Curry Partnership for Leaders in Education, a partnership between the Darden School of Business and the Curry School of Education. It combines the most innovative thinking in business and education, to help schools and districts build, support and sustain successful school turnarounds.

A partnership with UVA was established in late May 2009. Objectives were set that fall for each participating school, and the sixteen schools were officially branded the "Turnaround Schools."

The UVA program, which includes intense leadership training, helped district leaders and CPS principals apply highly successful business practices to schools.

For example, while the district's Elementary Initiative focused heavily on the use of data, the UVA program added strategies such as identifying and obtaining "quick wins", using "rapid resets" to test new initiatives, developing "90-day action plans" and establishing "data war rooms" to ensure that data was used to identify issues, reallocate resources and address the needs of individual students.

Case Study, National Model

"Every urban school district in the country is trying to turn around low-performing schools," Superintendent Ronan said. "But no other district has applied these principles on a scale like this."

The 16 targeted Cincinnati schools represent nearly one-third of Cincinnati Public's elementary buildings and is the largest application to date of the University of Virginia's program within a single district. Eight thousand CPS students and 560 teachers have been involved. The program has included complete redesign, new staff and new programs at four CPS schools: Taft Elementary, Rothenberg, South Avondale and Mt. Airy.

As a result of the success achieved so far in Cincinnati, the University of Virginia has made the CPS initiative the subject of a case study and potential national model for district administrators and principals around the country.

"Based on our experience with 48 districts across the country over the course of the past six years, this is the best districtwide implementation of a turnaround initiative at scale that we have seen. The CPS initiative could serve as a national model for this program."

LeAnn Buntrock, Darden/Curry Partnership for Leaders in Education

In June 2009, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan cited CPS' Fifth Quarter as a strong example of a district finding highly effective ways to help students at high-poverty, low-performing schools.

"To achieve these results, the principals and teachers at our Turnaround Schools have worked incredibly hard," said Laura Mitchell, deputy superintendent of CPS and the district's Turnaround Schools leader. "They have succeeded in changing the culture of their schools — probably the most difficult task any organization ever faces."

LeAnn Buntrock, executive director, Darden/Curry Partnership for Leaders in Education at the University of Virginia, confirmed that the results achieved by CPS only can be accomplished with close collaboration between the district and its schools — and a steadfast commitment to making difficult changes.

"Based on our experience with 48 districts across the country over the course of the past six years, this is the best districtwide implementation of a turnaround initiative at scale that we have seen," she said. "The CPS initiative could serve as a national model for this program."


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Participating Schools

  • Carson
  • Chase
  • Douglass
  • Hays-Porter
  • Mt. Airy
  • Oyler
  • John P. Parker
  • Pleasant Hill
  • Pleasant Ridge
  • Rockdale
  • Roll Hill
  • Rothenberg
  • South Avondale
  • Ethel M. Taylor
  • William H. Taft

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