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Published: Wednesday, 3/13/2002

$31 million to reform schools in urban areas

BY RYAN E. SMITH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Area urban school leaders hope their districts will benefit from more than $31 million that several foundations, including one started by Bill Gates, have pledged to pump into reforming Ohio's urban public schools.

Toledo Public Schools could get a real boost for programming and teacher development, according to Superintendent Eugene Sanders.

“We see that money helping us in a number of different ways,” he said. “We will be taking a good, strong look at it.”

With a new high school expected to be ready in 2004, officials in Lima, Ohio, said this is a perfect time to consider such reforms as converting the schools into smaller learning environments.

“It does blend very nicely with what we've been discussing already here in Lima,” said Superintendent John McEwan. “The ‘small schools' or ‘school within a school' concept is one we've been looking toward.”

Three philanthropic organizations announced Monday they have teamed up to provide a total of $31.5 million to improve urban education in the state.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has committed $20 million toward the Ohio High School Transformation Initiative. The program also will receive a $5 million boost from the KnowledgeWorks Foundation of Cincinnati.

The goal is to break large schools into smaller learning communities or create new, smaller schools with highly focused missions. Each of the state's 21 urban districts will have the opportunity to apply for awards.

There will be enough funds to plan reforms in four to six cities, which are expected to be chosen this summer.

The revamped schools ought to be in operation in 2004.

The Ford Foundation, which distributes more than $600 million annually, has promised $5 million, along with $1.5 million from KnowledgeWorks, to support Project GRAD (Graduation Really Achieves Dreams) Ohio.

The goal of that program is to improve student success in urban districts by aligning classroom curriculum from elementary school through high school.

Chad Wick, president and CEO of KnowledgeWorks, said the state's urban districts have a dismal record of student achievement and could benefit from these programs.

“The research is really clear that ... kids just simply do better in smaller, personalized learning environments,” Mr. Wick said. “This isn't hocus-pocus. This is lots of research that shows dropout rates, discipline problems, motivation, teacher satisfaction, all are better in environments where there are fewer numbers of kids.”

“We're trying to help create small, focused schools where people have a variety of high quality options,” said David Ferrero, a program officer at the Gates Foundation, which has an asset base of $24.2 billion. “It's not a quick fix.”



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