Governor to highlight school
The award-winning facility that was named Ohio’s No. 1 public elementary school in the state’s first school ranking based on student test scores is getting more recognition this week as the site of the governor’s State of the State speech.
Republican Gov. John Kasich is breaking with tradition by giving the speech at Wells Academy in Steubenville, away from the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus. A Kasich spokesman has said the Wells location is important to the governor’s jobs message.
Though the old steel mills and run-down houses in Steubenville serve as reminders of its economic woes, the school stands as an example of success in the eastern Ohio city where money and jobs are starting to pour in from drilling for oil and natural-gas reserves, The Columbus Dispatch reported.
More than half of Wells’ students come from poor households, but the student body has excelled. Last year, every third- and fourth-grade student at Wells passed state assessments in math and reading, and more than 70 percent performed at “advanced” levels. The school housed in a first-floor wing of Steubenville High School has earned a 100 percent mark on the tests every year since 2006 after falling just short in a few previous years.
“Why are you here?” Principal Joe Nocera asks students during announcements each morning over the public-address system. They respond: “To learn!”
When he asks who is responsible for their learning and behavior, their answer is: “I am!”
Nocera comes from a long line of steelworkers and spent two summers working in a mill before becoming the first in his family to go to college. He returned to Steubenville with a teaching degree and was high-school band director and principal at another elementary school before taking over at Wells three years ago.
Though test scores are the primary reason for Wells’ ranking, Nocera points to other factors that contribute to its success. He cites a committed staff, supportive parents and small classes, along with district-wide policies and curriculums that support students, teachers and administrators.
A highly structured curriculum mode called Success for All has been a big plus. The program adopted 13 years ago focuses heavily on reading. Students start every day with 90 minutes of reading and language arts before switching to math for 75 minutes.
“We have not jumped on and off every bandwagon of reforms,” Nocera said. “We found something we felt was working and stuck with it.”
He said the school started Success for All to bring up struggling students but found high-performing students also benefited.
The curriculum is “very scripted and explicit and teaches teachers how to use data to make decisions about individual students,” said Mary McVey, the head of the education department at nearby Franciscan University, which sends student teachers to Wells and other area schools.
“Education tends to be, ‘Let’s try this,’ and a few years go by, and if they don’t see the results, they go with something else,” she said. “You have to stick with it.”