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Thursday, January 29th, 2009

Area administrators react to governor's education proposal

By Janie Southard
Gov. Ted Strickland's State of the State speech on Wednesday calls for big changes in Ohio's education system from extending the school year by 20 days, to a four-year residency program for teachers, to eliminating the state test mandated for high school graduation, among many others.
Local educators like the look of most of Strickland's proposals calling them focused and long overdue. The governor himself alluded to the old-fashioned approach to education that is the current operational mode in Ohio.
"It is absolutely clear to me that simply tinkering with centuries-old education practices will not prepare Ohio's children for success in college, in the workplace, or in life," Strickland said in Wednesday's address. "Today I present my plan to build our education system anew ... We should design our education system around what works."
Celina City Schools Superintendent Matt Miller applauds moving forward in education practices.
"In Ohio, we test a mile wide and an inch deep. We don't focus on the core. We need to get our focus on relevance and rigor," he said. "It's clear from the context of his speech that education is priority and that, if anything, will be the key to economic recovery in Ohio."
Many components of the plan are programs already in place or in the planning stage in local school systems. All-day/every-day kindergarten is already common locally. The big difference is Strickland's plan would bring funding to 100 percent for all-day kindergarten, up from the 50 percent schools now receive from the state.
Strickland calls for a four-year residency for teachers, similar to that required for doctors and other professionals. Teachers would get their license after the residency is complete. Mary Riepenhoff, St. Marys City Schools superintendent, agrees.
"I do like the longer mentorship. Research says teachers get to their (optimum) confidence level and expertise at three years. So, I think the four-year residency is very good," she said this morning.
Miller also favors residency but takes it forward another step.
"I think of it actually as a probationary period more than a true residency. But I really like the idea of bringing professional people from the workforce into the classroom on a residency program," he said.
Citing the typical artist-in-residence program in museums and art schools, Miller likes the idea of an engineer in residence, an attorney in residence, and so forth. The professional would agree to interact with the students periodically over the four years.
Strickland emphasized that "not everyone is cut out to be a teacher. And the residency program will identify those people."
But even for teachers already in the field, we must have the ability to remove them from the classroom if students are not learning, Strickland also said.
"Right now it's harder to dismiss a teacher than any other public employee," he said, adding his plan would give administrators the power to dismiss teachers for good cause.
"I don't actually know what the standards are for other public employees. Dismissing a teacher is an extreme measure that we are already able to do with proper documentation," Miller said.
Another of Strickland's key objectives is tailoring instruction to the individual students' needs.
Riepenhoff said this would be a long-term goal coming into its own.
"The idea of teaching to individual students' needs is something educators have talked about for year. Not that every student would have his own plan, but I think we've always known (quality education) will come down to the individual student," she said.
Strickland wants to expand learning opportunities with instructional materials and enrichment activities, such as the Ohio Academic Olympics where students would compete in math, writing, debate, the arts and technology.
"There are some who would say we'll never fill the seats of a stadium for this kind of competition. But I'll tell you this: The winners of this competition will be able to design the stadium," he said.
Statewide, superintendents and teachers are awaiting the governor's budget proposal announcement on Monday. Until then, the actual numbers are anyone's guess. But between that first proposal and the final budget on July 1, educators well know there is the potential for many refinements.

Highlights of speech:
In Gov. Ted Strickland's State of the   State speech on Wednesday, he calls for several changes to the Ohio school system, including:
• Adding 20 days to the school calendar over a 10-year period, bringing the school year up to 200 days.
• Creating a teacher residency program, where new teachers work under an accomplished senior teacher. After a four-year residency, teachers would earn their professional teaching license.
• Creating a universal all-day kindergarten program.
• Replacing the Ohio Graduation Test with the ACT and three additional measures: statewide end of course exams, a service learning project and a senior project.
• A dramatic overhaul of Ohio's school funding system, boosting the state's share of the cost and lowering what taxpayers are expected to contribute to their local schools.
• A continued tuition freeze for the state's community colleges and regional campuses of four-year institutions. He also proposed a tuition freeze in 2010 for Ohio's four-year public colleges, with a 2011 increase not to exceed 3.5 percent.
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