Scores Are Up, Dismay is Down

Scores Are Up, Dismay is Down

Determination brought this low-achieving district to new heights

FULFILLING HER MOTHER'S DREAM

The progress in this Hamilton City, Ohio, district led to kudos from President Bush

When Janet Baker was growing up in Hamilton, Ohio, her mother told her the president had sent her a letter stating he wanted little Janet to work hard and do her homework because he might need her help in Washington, D.C., someday. Well, it took about 45 years, but her mother's white lie has come true.

Janet Baker, now superintendent of the Hamilton City (Ohio) School District, watched President Bush sign the federal No Child Left Behind bill into law at Hamilton High School in January. Bush had chosen to sign the historic law at Hamilton because he called the district a model of success for districts nationwide. The new law aims to close the achievement gap among students.

Baker's persistence and perseverance are evident in Hamilton schools, where 45 percent of the students qualify for free and reduced-priced lunch. Despite the state naming the district in "academic emergency" in 2000, Baker was chosen as Ohio's Superintendent of the Year in 2000 by the American Association of School Administrators. The honor was due in part to Baker's focus on intervention for poor student performance as well as yearly science fairs, invention conventions and essay, speech and poetry contests that provide students a chance to show what they know. And student attendance, graduation rates and National Merit and commended scholar distinctions have increased significantly during the last several years.

Baker has also led students to improve test scores since 2000, has purchased a training center to encourage more professional development, has given parents choices about their children's education, and has included community and business leaders in education.

Baker attributes much of the district's success to consistency. "I'm not using this as a stepping stone for a different job. This is where I want to be," Baker says. "That's stability. ... I've grown up in the system, and there is a level of trust. Our mission statement is focused on success for every individual child. We're methodical and use a lot of data to drive our decisions and track results. And we create action plans based on those results."

Progress Reports

School board president Glenn Stitsinger knew Baker when she was in her late 20s and principal of Lincoln Elementary School. "Janet Baker has always had a great work ethic," Stitsinger says. "She has a way of seeing problems almost before they develop.

"She's focused on results and she sets goals for building administrators. She expects those administrators to produce the results. And she's good at helping them do that," he says.

Hamilton High Principal Tracey Miller says Baker translates a sense of urgency to the principals that "we need to have high standards to continually improve."

This past school year, the New Ohio Institute, a Toledo-based think tank, chose the Hamilton district as the top-rated Ohio urban school district, in part because it showed more academic progress during the past two years than 75 percent of all other state school districts.

Baker implemented full-day kindergarten five years ago and the district is using an Adopt-a-School program. Local business will send volunteer workers to their chosen school to work with students.

Parents can also chose the elementary school they want their child to attend. Three of the 13 elementary schools have a Spectra Plus arts infusion program. Local artists integrate art and dance lessons with the academic program.

The district also has a business advisory council of about 30 leaders who tour the schools and offer advice on how to prepare students for work, such as if they need stronger computation or interviewing skills. This past June, about 21 percent of the stu3ents planned to work full-time after graduation.

Stitsinger adds that while test scores are not the only measure of student success, they show that students are improving from one grade level to the next. "Her thrust has been that we want to have high expectations for all children, not just for some of the children," he says.

Angela Pascopella, apascopella@edmediagroup.com, is features editor.


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