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Warren's Harding sees future in specialized, smaller schools

By Denise Dick

Tuesday, April 22, 2003

News of the grant could come by mid-May.
WARREN -- Warren G. Harding High School officials gave a thick binder of information to the foundation that will decide if the school will receive a grant to convert it to four smaller high schools.
Each of the schools would have a different focus, for example one for the arts and one for science. The goals are to improve student attendance, academic performance, graduation rate and preparation for post-secondary choices.
Harding is one of 44 urban schools across Ohio that received initial funding last fall to study the conversion. Youngstown also is among the 44, competing as a school district rather than an individual school. The schools whose plans are deemed the best will get additional funding.
The Warren district received a $185,000 grant in October for professional development of a plan to improve achievement and graduation rates at the high school.
The grant is funded mostly by the Bill & amp; Melinda Gates Foundation, the Ohio Department of Education, and KnowledgeWorks, a foundation in Cincinnati that helps to finance education initiatives in Ohio.
Grant amount
If approved, the school would get about $1.8 million over three years to implement its plan. Monday is the deadline for submission, but Harding shipped its application last week because of the spring break.
A representative from the Cincinnati foundation told school board members earlier this month he expects the school will look good in its application "because you've already shown that you're committed to change."
School officials are hopeful.
"I feel very strongly about our proposal," said William E. Mullane, Harding principal. "I know we stack up."
But he said he didn't get a feeling of the proposals from the other schools or how Harding's compared.
"I think we're as competitive as anyone," Mullane said.
Linda Detwiler, Harding's strategic planner, offered a similar view.
"I'm positive in that we have done our diligence," she said.
Five years in the works
The process has been in the works for the last five years and started with the formation of a strategic plan to improve the schools. The plan involved representatives of the community including teachers, parents, staff and political, labor and business leaders.
"Our portfolio is very strong and that's been shown through the community involvement," Detwiler said. "I believe our prospects are good."
Debbie Howard, senior program officer at KnowledgeWorks, said the portfolios will be reviewed Wednesday and Thursday by people within the organization and people who have been involved in small school programs.
Officials from schools with proposals that are deemed to meet the required criteria will be invited to Cincinnati for interviews.
"We're also looking for passion and commitment to the project," Howard said.
Notification process
The foundation plans to notify schools by May 19 if they've been selected for funding in the first round. Schools that aren't may apply again in August.
Between May and August, 15 to 17 schools are expected to be funded.
The idea is to convert the larger school into four smaller high schools each with a separate focus. "The goal of this improvement initiative is to create systemic high school change over the next five years while producing dramatic improvements in student performance outcomes," according to the information submitted for the grant. "This will then challenge the conventional beliefs on how schools are designed and organized."
Under the grant's guidelines, no school will exceed the 400-student target population. Research has shown the importance of relationships, which are better fostered in smaller learning communities, officials say.
The application consists of 37 double-size pages including photos, graphs and charts and 600 pages of appendices.
Each of the four high schools, which will be housed under one roof, will have its own budget, principal and focus, but all will be required to meet state and national academic standards.
The district intends to maintain activities such as one football team and one band with participation from all of the smaller high schools.
Each of the smaller schools will have open access and "students and parents will be able to choose the learning community that they want to affiliate with," the application says.
If the school receives the grant, implementation will begin in late May and continue through June 2004.