Governor John Kasich is breaking with tradition by delivering his State of the State speech at Wells Academy in Steubenville today. The 300-student public school is one of the highest rated schools in the state.
Steubenville’s skyline is dotted with smoke stacks, memories of its heyday of long ago.
“Steubenville’s a blue collar working town,” says Joe Nocera, the principal of Wells Academy. “For years the employment was basically steel mill, now the steel mill industry has gone down somewhat over the past 10-15 years.”
Actually, it’s pretty much completely gone. Unemployment reached 15 percent in 2010 here, and the poverty rate is well above the state average.
And yet, this down-on-its luck town on the Pennsylvania border is home to the best performing school in the state according to the Ohio Department of Education.
So how does a small, K – 4th grade public school in Steubenville become one of the consistently highest rated schools in Ohio?
Nocera says, “there’s really no secret; it comes down to the community.”
Parents care about their kids’ education around here, he says.
The other ingredient is an education reform program called Success for All.
Nocera says the improvement over the last decade has been remarkable, “and it was not overnight, if I might add. We’ve been with this program for 13 years.”
At Wells Academy, teachers follow a script. Not the play kind of script, more of an outline of what everyone should be teaching. Every day starts with 90 minutes of math and 90 minutes of reading. Students sit in clustered groups instead of rows. Teachers don’t lecture. Class sizes are kept at a minimum, and kindergarten runs all day.
The other key to success, Nocera says, is that the school “did not jump on and off every bandwagon that normally comes past education.”
The students can’t wait for the Governor to get here.
“Yeah, we’re really excited,” says fourth grader Kaleb Norris. “Because we’re the top school and I don’t think the Governor’s ever been to a school to make an announcement … or to … I dunno!”
Given that Kasich is travelling to Wells Academy today, he may spend a good part of his speech on education. He was expected to propose a new schools funding formula last year, something many hope he’ll get to this year.
Ida Lieszkovszky / StateImpact: Ohio permalink
Students sit clustered in tables of four, to make it easier to work together during the school day.