Sunday, May 20, 2018
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`It's a hard job'

To be in Principal Robert Williams office at Spring Elementary School at almost any time is to be surrounded by children, mostly boys.

Boys doing homework. Boys sharpening pencils. Boys being reprimanded. Boys cooling down.

Mr. Williams, an athletic-looking man with a quick laugh, presides over a school where discipline competes with education for most of the day.

“Mr. Williams, can I have a ruler?” asks a boy walking through his office.

“You can have two,” the principal tells him. “Take one home. Leave one here.”

An office attendant tries to make a boy sit down and stop wandering around. Mr. Williams tells her to leave the boy alone.

In the mornings, the principal drives his car to the stops on Spring's two bus routes to make sure children are behaving outside the homes where they wait. In the afternoons, he drives to children's homes to drop off papers, pick up permission slips, and talk with mothers and fathers about how their children are behaving.

In the meantime, he spends much of his day mediating petty disciplinary disputes.

The North Toledo school had the lowest fourth-grade math and reading proficiency test passage rate in the city in 1999. It had among the lowest passage rate in Ohio - even when compared to other low-income schools in the state. Only 3.1 per cent of the fourth-grade class passed the math test. The passage rate on the reading test was 12.5 per cent.

Only a handful of schools in Ohio had lower scores than that.

“It's a hard job, and we're doing the best that we can,” Mr. Williams said. “We're developing some strategies. I'm not Superman, and I do need the help of the parents.”

Because of the school's low proficiency scores, its staff has been provided with a two-year grant of $190,000 from the state Department of Education this year to come up with solutions.

The grant may be spent on new curriculum and more teacher training.

Teacher Linda King, the building representative for the Toledo Federation of Teachers, said the committee has high hopes for its efforts, but improvements won't happen overnight.

She said the teachers are working to identify weaknesses on the proficiency skills and turn them into strengths.

“It's going to take us to December to present the proposal. It has to be research-based,” Mrs. King said. “I wouldn't expect results this year.”

Mr. Williams said the school is still struggling with the impact of a demographic shift that occurred in 1995 when North Toledo schools were redistricted to reopen Warren Elementary School.

“It's a tough area,” Mr. Williams said. “They moved our boundaries, and we lost about 300 kids from very stable homes.”

Last year, 80 per cent of Spring's student population qualified for free and reduced-price lunches.

Debbi Hornyak, president of the Spring parents' organization, said “low-income” doesn't adequately describe the situation.

“Low income can be parents struggling to make payments or bills. That would be an easy problem,” Mrs. Hornyak said. “We have many children who the grandparents are raising. Mom and dad aren't in the picture or are only when they want to be.”

That does not change the statistical picture, which is that Spring Elementary is performing well below the test scores achieved at other schools with similar - and even poorer - socioeconomic makeup.

Mr. Williams acknowledges that.

“We're not giving the kids what they need.”

He said the textbooks purchased by the district are not aligned with the proficiency tests. He would like to see the teachers toss out the textbooks and adopt materials and textbooks that teach what is taught on the Ohio proficiency tests.

“I can't tell them,” he said. “Teachers feel threatened, and it's easier for them to teach the book.”

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