WARREN A new way for the high school



The proposals aim to reduce dropout rates and prepare graduates better for college or jobs.
By DENISE DICK
VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF
WARREN -- The public will determine whether to modify Warren G. Harding High School into smaller schools with a different philosophy toward education.
Members of the district's strategic planning team have been touring the high school over the last few weeks, visiting classes, talking to students and teachers and completing surveys about the school.
The team includes parents, community leaders and people from business, industry and labor.
The process is part of a $185,000 grant received in October to improve achievement and graduation rates at the school.
The grant is funded mostly by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Ohio Department of Education and KnowledgeWorks, a $200 million foundation that helps finance education initiatives in Ohio.
The money is being used to design a plan to turn larger, more impersonal, inner-city high schools into smaller, more personalized ones.
Those school districts whose plans are deemed the best will receive additional funding to implement their proposals.
Assessments and opinions
Principal William Mullane said most of the surveys received thus far indicate Harding is overcrowded and that respondents are concerned about dropout rates.
Two team members who visited the school last week, Mary Betts of Hartford and Sharon Minotti of Howland, said they were impressed with the curriculum. Minotti pointed to the number of computers in different classrooms.
Betts cited the course offerings, such as advanced classes, and the emphasis on technology.
"I was impressed," she said. "It's a lot different than when I was in school."
Multiple schools
One idea, if the community supports it, would be to redesign Harding into four independent high schools, still under one roof, but each with its own budget, principal and focus.
"It would be a school that really challenges all of the traditions of the past," Mullane said.
Each school would be required to meet certain academic requirements, but they'd have different focuses, such as one geared toward the arts, one aimed at science and so on. Students and their parents would determine which one the child would attend.
"It's changing the very concept of a high school," Mullane said, adding that the idea of school five days a week, six hours a day would change.
He stressed that the community is providing input on a plan and that nothing would be implemented without community support.
Rather than work toward a goal of graduation in four years, students would complete school when they're proficient in the subjects.
"The idea of everyone doing things at the same time would go away," the principal said. "There would be more flexibility."
Improving preparation
The concept also aims to prepare students for college and the workplace and to match what federal and state governments urge in education. People in higher education and business often say graduates aren't ready to go to college or to work in the industries where jobs are available.
"They want to reach the students we're not reaching and to raise the standards for those students that are meeting them," Mullane said.
He referred to one college official who noted that some students use up all of their financial aid taking classes they could have taken in high school.
When they get to the classes for their major, their financial aid is gone, and sometimes they have to leave school, the principal said.
"We are asking people to think way outside of the box here," Mullane said.
dick@vindy.com

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