First grader Ja Shayla Motley does her part during the pledge of allegiance at Toledo's Old West End Academy.
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With waiting lists for next year, Toledo's two public school academies have become popular among parents seeking alternatives within the district. They find extended classroom hours, parents signing contracts to be involved with the schools, and innovative reading and foreign language instruction.
Old West End Academy, in a former junior high building, opened in September with about 180 students from pre-kindergarten to third grade. The school, at 3131 Cambridge St., will add a grade for each of the next three years.
At Grove Patterson Academy, 3020 Marvin Ave., applications are streaming in for next year, Principal Gretchen Bueter said. Returning students have first priority in the elementary grades while siblings of current students will be accepted first for kindergarten. The rest of the students will be chosen by lottery.
Now in its third year with about 300 students in kindergarten to sixth grade, Grove Patterson is sending its first class to junior high next year.
“Academically we want to continue to boost our reading scores, we want to keep our math scores going up, and we're working a lot on science,” Ms. Bueter said.
Old West End Principal Kathy Gregory says her school has enjoyed high levels of parental involvement and commitment, motivated students who embrace the challenging curriculum and longer school day, and dedicated teachers who are focused on a core curriculum aimed at improving students' proficiency test scores.
“We're working really hard with our thrust in reading and math,” Ms. Gregory said. “Our focus is on teaching the test because that is what the schools are going to be graded on and evaluated on. We need to keep our focus there. However, the teachers are creative enough to make sure that it's across the curriculum and the kids get everything they need.”
Board of education President Peter Silverman said the academies offer flexibility to Toledo parents.
“I think we're very pleased with each academy,” he said. “Their key philosophy is required parental involvement, combined with a rigorous curriculum, and we're finding high parental satisfaction.”
Grove Patterson uses the Success for All reading curriculum, a program that groups students by reading level and aims to have each child reading on grade level by third grade. The Old West End Academy uses Direct Instruction, a phonics-based approach that uses group reading, frequent testing and scripted lesson plans.
Both schools schedule more parent-teacher conferences than other elementaries in Toledo. Parents at the schools sign contracts, promising at least 10 hours of volunteer time each year as well as close supervision of their children's homework.
“Parents want their children here so that makes a difference as well,” Mrs. Gregory said. “We have had, for the most part, the parents here on a regular basis. At any time, you can go into a classroom and see parents there assisting the teachers.”
Both schools have attendance rates above 96 percent - 6 percentage points above the district rate last year. Ms. Bueter also keeps a close eye on tardiness, contacting parents if students are late.
“We run a tight ship,” she said. “Those children must be there; otherwise it disrupts classes once they come in late. This program only functions and succeeds when everyone is here.”
With Grove Patterson's sixth graders moving on in the fall, the district is studying the option of establishing a junior high academy in vacated space in DeVilbiss High School.
Not only would such a school provide a similar, high-intensity setting for students coming from Grove Patterson and eventually Old West End, it would relieve some of the overcrowding at other district junior highs, said Earl Apgar, assistant superintendent for human resources. “It also allows us to do some challenging things, I think, with junior high kids,” he said. “Parents have been very active and concerned as to what was going to happen to their kids when they leave sixth grade at Grove Patterson. It might be an opportunity to move those children on to an academy-type setting.”
While district administrators consider more academies, Ms. Gregory and Ms. Bueter are focusing on continued improvements at their schools.
“I believe parents will be the key to the strength of the academy,” Ms. Gregory said.
Ms. Bueter said one of her biggest indicators of success is the number of application requests she's had. “It just shows there is some growth going on. There is success taking place,” she said.