Columbus To Try Site-Based Management, ‘Houses’

By Mark Walsh — March 01, 1989 3 min read

u The Columbus, Ohio, school board last week gave the green light to an ambitious site-based management program that will revamp high-school curricula, change teachers’ role, and organize students into “houses’’ within their schools.

The new system, to be tried out next year in four high schools, is scheduled to include all 16 city high schools the following year.

Board members voted 6-0 to implement the recommendations of a high-school task force, which had developed the proposals after a year-long examination of reform ideas. The task force comprised parents, teachers, administrators, and community-group representatives.

Its blueprint calls for putting school governance into the hands of administrators, teachers, and parents; eliminating the general high-school track; expanding the number of Advanced Placement courses; and replacing teachers’ various monitoring duties with student-counseling assignments.

“We are not looking for any shake and bake or smoke and mirrors,” said Superintendent Ronald E. Etheridge. “We’re looking for real reform.”

The cornerstone of the plan is a pilot test next year in four “scout” schools, which are to be run by a “shared decisionmaking cabinet” made up of the principal, parents, and teachers. The cabinet will be able to seek waivers from the teachers’ union contract as well as district and state regulations to create a learning environment appropriate for the school.

The four schools would “venture, with reason and courage, into the heretofore unexplored territory of site-based reform--reform that can transfigure large organizations from the bottom up, not from the top down,” says a report from the superintendent.

“Each cabinet may decide to do things differently, but they will be held accountable,” Mr. Etheridge said in an interview. “You cannot hold people accountable unless you give them unbridled authority.”

The superintendent praised the Columbus Education Association, the local teachers’ union, for its cooperation in helping to develop the reform plan.

“It’s unique” for a National Education Association affiliate, said John Grossman, cea president.

By eliminating the general high-school track, the task force concluded, the district would be able to strengthen the curriculum at the scout schools. Under the plan, students will be required to choose a voel10lcational or a college-preparatory track by the end of 10th grade. The task force recommends that the track be eliminated at all schools by the 1990-91 school year.

“The general track does not provide students with a marketable skill,” Mr. Etheridge said. But he added that he was concerned about the budgetary burden that might be placed on vocational programs, whose enrollments are expected to more than double.

The task force also recommended that aides instead of teachers be used for monitoring cafeterias, hallways, parking lots, and study halls. It projected that the proposal would cost the district $1.3 million a year in costs for the additional aides.

Under the plan, teachers could instead become advisors for an assigned number of students, and would receive inservice training and extra compensation if they chose to participate.

The task force also called for a “house plan,” in which a group of students would be assigned to a single team of staff members for all four years of high school. The staff group, made up of an administrator, teachers, and a guidance counselor, would monitor attendance, help students with scheduling, and contact parents when problems arose.

Other changes planned for the district’s high schools are:

More Advanced Placement courses, with each high school offering two by 1990-91 and four by the next year. The additions will show that the school system intends to compete in the “academic forefront” with all urban and suburban schools, the superintendent said.

Curriculum revision. The plan calls for the formation of committees to revise the curricula of most subject areas and the elimination of semester-length classes in favor of making all course offerings year-long.