The electronic sign outside Chase Elementary school blinks from message to message. "Why go to a charter school?" it asks.
It's a question principal Steven Riddle would like parents to consider. In his second year at the North Toledo school, he's seen attendance, test scores, student morale, and community involvement go up.
Enrollment is up too, by 72 students. About 20 of those are students returning from charter schools, he said.
"When I came in, I promised the parents we were going to change this building and make it one of the best schools in Toledo Public," he said.
Mr. Riddle said he's tried to make the school a true community school, holding events for students and parents.
He said he wants the students to feel that the staff cares about them. Staff members greet every child arriving at school and try to ask them about their lives outside of school.
"We made them want to come to school, and that's always the biggest challenge," he said.
The school staff also treat parents with respect and get them involved. Teachers try to contact families at least every two weeks to let them know about events and their students.
Mr. Riddle said the changes he's made are paying off in test scores, most of which improved in the last year.
Chase was given a rating of "continuous improvement" for the 2003-2004 school year by the Ohio Department of Education because it met only three of the 12 state indicators on the proficiency tests, attendance, fourth-grade writing, and sixth-grade writing. Though the school's reading scores increased last year, they were still below the state requirements.
Superintendent Eugene Sanders, who appointed Mr. Riddle as principal, said he would love to have more principals like him.
"We've been very pleased with his success at the school in terms of parent involvement, academic achievement, and community engagement," Mr. Sanders said.
Mr. Riddle, a 28-year-old Perrysburg resident, grew up in Put-in-Bay and went to Bowling Green State University, where he started out majoring in business and marketing.
While at BGSU he tutored reading and coached Catholic Youth Organization basketball. He said he liked working with children and had liked his own school experience and principal, so when he found his college classes dry and boring, he decided to become a school principal.
He got married, moved to Toledo, and changed colleges. He graduated from the University of Toledo in 1998 with a degree in education and later got a master's.
He taught sixth grade at Keyser Elementary for three years and coached basketball at DeVeaux Junior High.
In his second year of teaching, he was head teacher of his building. He said he wanted to see what it was like to work with the union and the principal "to see both sides of the fence."
He served as assistant principal at Burroughs Elementary for a few months and then was assistant principal at Fulton Elementary for a year. He then became principal at Chase.
Mr. Riddle, who speaks of his work with optimistic energy, said he likes the challenges of leading a building.
"There's nothing I don't do for the kids around here," he said.
Contact Elizabeth A. Shack at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6050.