School for the Arts among nation s top 8 for minority students

Practicing violin during an orchestra class at Toledo School for the Arts are, from left, Chafika Simmons, Richara Goss, and Taylor Ramos. The school is on 14th Street, near downtown.
Practicing violin during an orchestra class at Toledo School for the Arts are, from left, Chafika Simmons, Richara Goss, and Taylor Ramos. The school is on 14th Street, near downtown.

Toledo School for the Arts, one of the state s most successful and longest-running charter schools, has been highlighted as one of just eight high school charter schools in the nation that meet the needs of minority students.

A report to be released Dec. 7 by the U.S. Department of Education honors the school at 333 14th St. for reaching groups of students that are traditionally underserved in American schools African-American, Latino, poor students, and special education students.

I think this really validates what we have been doing over time here, said Martin Porter, director of the Toledo School for the Arts.

The school is one of four out of the 39 charter schools in northwest Ohio that received the state s top rating for 2005-2006 an excellent designation, which is equivalent to an A.

The school s ranking, its focus on the performing and fine arts, and success closing the achievement gap between white and other students attracted the attention of a California research firm studying more than 1,700 charter high schools.

The school, which has 400 students in grades 6 through 12 from 13 different school districts, is 56.4 percent white, 37.5 percent black, 5.1 percent Hispanic, and 1 percent Asian. Five percent are in special education, and 44 percent are on free and reduced lunch.

The U.S. Department of Education report, obtained this week by The Blade, describes the school in colorful terms.

Entering this school in downtown Toledo, you see students passing through the hallways with musical instruments slung over their shoulders, walking to class with a purpose, past walls covered with superb murals and collages, it reads. Instead of a bell ringing, music plays over the loudspeakers to announce the end of class.

The arts curriculum includes music, dance, theater, and visual arts. There are jazz and pop music programs, an orchestra, chorus, and piano and guitar classes.

Mr. Porter said the school would soon be expanding into film, animation, and video.

He has struggled in recent years to keep the school from being lumped together with the majority of charter schools in Ohio that are underperforming. Almost half of those Ohio charter schools that received grades from the state in August for the 2005-2006 school year received a D or an F rating.

Charter schools in Ohio have been under fire for several years because of lackluster or poor academic scores, and in some cases, financial mismanagement. The charter schools serve nearly 72,000 students in 35 of Ohio s 88 counties, costing state taxpayers about half a billion dollars a year.

Charter schools, which are also called community schools in Ohio, are publicly funded but often privately operated. Their constitutionality was challenged but ultimately upheld in October by the Ohio Supreme Court in a split ruling. Mr. Porter said he hopes the discussion about charter schools will now turn to quality rather than legality.

Carol Bell, a seventh and eighth-grade math teacher, said the staff has been honored to make the list of eight schools.

We really try to think outside the box and tie arts into our academic classes and vice versa because there is data that says students learn better in an arts-based education, Ms. Bell said. We can be a little more creative than other schools and we have smaller classes.

She also added that arts programs in traditional public schools are usually cut to save money when budgets run tight.

Toledo School for the Arts is becoming well-known in the city for its Artnerships with local organizations such as the Toledo Museum of Art, The Toledo Opera, and the Arts Commission of Greater Toledo.