Taft celebrates schools’ success

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 9, 2000

ROME – The helicopter touched down in the Fairland East Elementary field at 12:20 p.

Thursday, March 09, 2000

ROME – The helicopter touched down in the Fairland East Elementary field at 12:20 p.m. Wednesday.

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Waving American flags in the air, more than 900 children gathered outside the front entrance to say hello to their state’s governor.

But Gov. Bob Taft did not visit the Fairland School District to be adored. He came to learn.

Fairland Local School District is rated among the top 13 percent of Ohio’s 611 school districts. It was one of 81 districts across the state meeting 22 or more of the 27 State of Ohio 2000 Report Card performance standards and was rated as showing "continuous improvement."

And Taft wanted to know how they did it – especially considering Fairland spends about $1,700 less than the state average expenditure per pupil.

"I’m totally blown away by what you’ve achieved in a couple of years," Taft said. "Maybe we can use your example to encourage, motivate and help other schools."

Fairland’s success has not happened overnight, though, superintendent Jerry McConnell said.

It has taken the cooperative effort of staff members, community members and students over the past eight years to get where Fairland is today, McConnell told Taft in a meeting with school officials and teachers Wednesday.

"What we’ve tried to do is align our curriculum and improve how well our students are prepared," McConnell said. "Our strong faculty, I believe, is the essence. It all starts with the teachers."

The teachers could not do it alone, however, said Evelyn Capper, a middle school teacher who was asked to speak to the governor.

"We have wonderful support from the community," Mrs. Capper said.

Each of Fairland’s three schools offer afterschool intervention programs where at-risk students are identified and can get extra help in proficiency-related areas.

These programs start as early as the first grade, with intervention programs that focus on improving reading skills – the building block for an excellent education, said Carolyn Waggoner, an elementary school teacher.

This supplemental education is reinforced through such computer software programs as Failure Free Reading, which was recently purchased through an OhioReads grant, said Ken Ratliff, district administrative assistant and technology coordinator.

"Our goal was to master all of the proficiency outcomes in the grade level prior to testing," Ratliff said. "The teachers broke up into content area teams and decided where each of the outcomes would be introduced, reinforced and mastered. We identified areas of weakness and are now in the process of rectifying those deficiencies.

"In our elementary school, we have been using open court for 25 years. We also have CCC reading and mathematics software, which is used as a supplement and evaluates student’s ability and places them in an appropriate program."

Taft plans to take all the information he has gathered at the Fairland meeting and try to formulate a plan other districts might be interested in following.

"Fairland has done so many things the right way and they have achieved dramatic improvements," Taft said. "I wanted to come here and understand the elements of their success."

The meeting with Taft was deemed a success by Fairland school officials. And McConnell hopes this will not be the last time the school hears from the governor’s office.

"We are very proud the governor selected Fairland School District to receive information in regards to proficiency tests," McConnell said. "Everyone in the community is extremely proud he has chosen Fairland.

"We shared several areas that the Fairland School District emphasizes in regards to proficiency testing and some materials we have developed locally. We’re hoping we will hear from him in the future and he’ll return to see how we continue to progress."