Dr. Martin Ringstaff gave an overview of some current school situations to the Sunrise Rotary organization Thursday.
“We believe we are preparing our students well,” Ringstaff said. Just seeing a list of the high-level colleges and universities — such as the University of Tennessee, the University of South Carolina, and the University of Georgia — proves that well.
In addition, those students who are not planning to go to college are equally as prepared and trained to join the workforce in many areas. Some of the programs being considered that may be added in the future include culinary arts and marketing.
“Not everyone will go to college,” Ringstaff said, “so we’ve got to prepare the kids appropriately.”
Nine schools are part of the Cleveland City Schools system — six elementary schools, with around 2,500 students; Cleveland Middle School, with around 1,200 students; and Cleveland High School and the Teen Learning Center, with a combined total of a little more than 1,300 students. The average number of elementary and middle school students per classroom is 20-22. In high school, it’s between 22-25. In 2005, the total number of students was 4,546. In 2011, it was 5,125.
“That’s quite a lot of students,” Ringstaff said. The schools are jam-packed, he added.
The current facilities are not meant to accommodate this many students. That’s why the current challenges for the city schools are the fast growth of the area and trying to have adequate space for students and teachers alike.
“We’re looking for more areas,” Ringstaff said. “We’re at capacity.”
But it costs money — a lot of money to build new schools. An elementary school, on average, costs around $14 million; a middle school for 1,000 students, around $30 million; a high school, between $50 million to $70 million.
“People are surprised at how expensive buildings are,” said Tom Cloud, the school board member from the 5th District.
But despite the bulging seams, “we’ll take all students. We like the challenge,” he said.
Despite the growing number of students, city scores are near or a little above the state average in every area. ACT composite scores for the Cleveland schools rank ninth in the state of Tennessee.
“But we’ve got lots of challenges with the Race to the Top program,” he said. Now the schools are trying to move forward into using common core standards over the next two years.
“It’s like comparing apples to oranges. The teachers are doing a great job with all the changes being thrown at them.”
Another change affecting the Cleveland schools is the way special student diplomas are viewed.
“When a special education student on an IEP diploma receives a IEP diploma, it does not count in our graduation rate calculation even though the student meets that diploma’s qualifications for graduation. It’s impossible to hit 100 percent,” he said.
For example, since the city schools have roughly 15 percent of students in the disability program, that means the school system can’t have more than an 85 percent graduate rate.
“Mathematically it can not happen. For example, any school system that has a high number of IEP diploma candidates, each IEP candidate for graduation counts against the school system’s graduation rate. That is not fair to the student, family and school.”
This is why the school system’s graduation rate went down.
“It is because the state changed the way they calculated, but did not adjust, the benchmark,” he explained.
But one concern of Ringstaff’s in preparing Tennessee students for the future is the lack of “higher technological thinking skills.”
For example, in many high schools in Tennessee, laptops are not allowed in the classroom.
“Are we really preparing our students?” he asked. Depending on which colleges and/or universities the students attend, it might be mandatory for them to have a laptop.
“If we haven’t prepared our students when they leave our school system, how will they succeed?”
Another issue Ringstaff mentioned was the timing of certain tests in 10th grade. Students take ACT or SAT tests their sophomore year, before they have taken algebra II classes and are at a disadvantage on these tests. Because of this one issue, only 27 percent of students reportedly are ready to go to college. But if the test were given one year later, these math scores, he feels confidently, would go up dramatically.
“We’re accountable to the students and the parents,” Ringstaff said. “We need to hit the marks.”
For every one job opening, Ringstaff said, they usually receive 100 applications, so the City of Cleveland school system can choose the teachers with the very best credentials. And having great teachers makes a big difference in the success of each student, but the biggest determining factor in a students success is still the parents.
“Communication is key,” Ringstaff said. “We educate between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. From 3 p.m. to 8 a.m., it’s the parents.”
Ringstaff wanted to remind all parents the school system is “parent-friendly.” They can drop by any time.
In other business:
— Timiethea DeLaney became the 60th new member of the 16-year-old Sunrise Rotary Thursday. She recently moved her family and her singing telegram service to Cleveland. DeLaney was sponsored by Donna Payton, director of the Helping Hands organization also here in Cleveland.