Superintendent Suggests Changes to Improve Literacy
Douglas Heuer, superintendent of the Cleveland Heights-University Heights schools, highlights concerns about reading levels during his State of the Schools speech
This is the first in a series of articles about the concerns and accomplishments highlighted in Superintendent Douglas Heuer's State of the Schools speech Jan. 26.
Douglas Heuer told those who came to hear his State of the Schools address Wednesday night an alarming fact.
Thirty percent of third graders in the district are "consistently" not reading at grade level, according to state tests, and those who do not catch up by the end of that critical year are unlikely to ever do so, said Heuer, superintendent of the Cleveland Heights-University Heights School District.
The district is below the Ohio average, as 78 percent of students read at grade level in the third grade, according to the most recent state report card.
One way he said he wants to remedy this is by expanding the early-childhood program.
“Bringing our children under our wing earlier will significantly decrease the number of children who enter kindergarten unprepared,” he said last night.
The district's Early Childhood Center is housed in the Gearity Professional Development School on Wrenford Road, and 134 students were enrolled as of today, although the numbers change throughout the year, said Angee Shaker, director of communications and community engagement for the schools, by e-mail. The district enrolled about 430 kindergarteners this year.
Heuer said he would like to add two additional classrooms in the northern area of the district, but did not provide details about the cost, additional staff required or how many more students those classrooms would serve.
Parents of students enrolled in half-day preschool five days a week from September through May pay $317 per month, and families can qualify for assistance based on number of children and income through a state grant, Shaker said. Some qualify for free preschool, or reduced rates of $69 or $90 per month.
The full-day preschool is $720 monthly and year-round, and Cuyahoga County child care vouchers are accepted, she said. Thirty-five students are enrolled.
There are also 18 reading specialists in the district who devote their day to providing professional development to teachers and working with small groups of students on reading strategies, said Kelly Stukus, coordinator of elementary literacy.
“There are two specialists assigned to each elementary building and one to each middle school,” Stukus said by e-mail.
However, Heuer said during his speech that the schools are relying on the reading specialists, or Title I teachers, too much.
Each of the seven elementary schools has about 300 to 400 students, and each of the three middle schools has about 400 to 550.
He said the schools will provide every primary teacher (grades one through three) with professional development to become a certified reading specialist.
One of the district's challenges to ensuring students are reading at grade level is that it has a 20 percent transiency rate. Each year, 20 percent of the students are new to the district and aren’t prepared for the rigor of the schools, he said.
So far this school year, 917 new students enrolled in the Cleveland Heights-University Heights schools, said Pat Christopherson, registrar. There are about 6,000 students in the district.
"In districts that are rated 'excellent' or 'excellent with distinction,' it is characteristic of the demographics of those districts to see about 90 percent of their students who enter at the kindergarten level, according to preschool tests, being prepared for kindergarten," Heuer said. "The fact is for our district, that is often not the case, as demonstrated by our pre-testing results."
"We're educating our students well, we're helping them advance, but we are not doing it fast enough."