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High schools' future glimpsed at Aiken

By France Griggs, Post staff reporter

The girls in Jan Feiser's 10th-grade math class remember studying together all through their ninth-grade year at Aiken High School.

When they returned to school this year, they found themselves grouped together again with some of the same teachers in the some of the same classrooms. It was as if they'd never left.< p> ''I think we should have them all four years,'' 16-year-old Celia Campbell said of her teachers. ''This year my grades are certainly a lot better.''

It's not by happenstance that in a school with 1,200 students Celia and her classmates are together again this year. Rather, it's the purpose of the team-based design Aiken adopted last year to keep ninth- and 10th-graders with the same set of teachers for two years in a row.

Team-based teaching of high school students in smaller groups is at the core of the high school restructuring plan unveiled last week by Cincinnati Public Schools Superintendent Steven Adamowski. Breaking up large high schools into smaller communities is a popular high school reform in many schools here and across the country, but Adamowski said Cincinnati is the first of the big city districts to adopt the structure systemwide.

Much of the plan is based on the Aiken design.

''The goal is to get them through the 10th grade to meet our standards and then into a senior institute,'' Adamowski said.

He believes if more students complete 10th grade, the neighborhood high schools' combined 75 percent dropout rate could be greatly reduced.

''Our results in the neighborhood schools are so low, we must try. We have an absolute responsibility to do this better,'' Adamowski said.

Aiken teachers have been trying to do it better for six years now at the school in College Hill. Though they've had mixed results, they believe more of their teamed students stay in school because of the extra time and teacher attention they receive.

In the 1995-1996 school year, a team of Aiken teachers selected a group of freshman students and taught them as a class, keeping them through both years. Teachers say more of their ninth-graders came back as 10th-graders than in the rest of the school, and are part of this year's senior class.

Under the leadership of new principal Thomas Higgins, appointed two years ago, Aiken decided to take the team-based design schoolwide last year.

Now the high school is divided into four houses - A, B, C, D. Each house has a team of ninth-graders and a team of 10th-graders with up to 120 students and four teachers plus a special education teacher on each team.

One of the houses specializes in the Career Paths studies of cosmetology, commercial art, human services and protective services, while an Alternative House takes in students who are behind.

Juniors and seniors are grouped in the Upper House.

Teamed students take two core courses a day in 90-minute block classes. Third period every day is an intervention class students use to catch up, get extra help, or study for proficiency tests. All go out for classes like art, language, and physical education.

Though no statistics are tied directly to teaming, Aiken's number of graduates doubled from 80 the year before Higgins came to 119 the next year to 190 last summer.

Because of it being a pilot project with a single team, the effect of schoolwide teaming won't be known for years.

Publication date: 01-22-01




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