Finding excellence in Canton, Ohio

Yesterday morning I visited McGregor Elementary, a school in Canton, Ohio serving students in preschool through sixth-grade, and doing it very well. The building sits practically across the street from the sprawling Timken Co. steel plant, nestled in a neighborhood you might describe as working class. Even if you've never been to a northeastern Ohio city, the surroundings immediately feel familiar. It reflects the quintessence of old industrial cities, the kind whose rapid job loss and demographic shifts leave them looking worn and a little forgotten.

Glancing at some basic data, the school appears similar to other Canton City Schools: student mobility is slightly higher than the district average; its average per pupil expenditure nearly meets the district mean; its teachers are a notch above the district in terms of years of experience and salary.

But, over 90 percent of McGregor's student population (just shy of 400 students) is economically disadvantaged, and the school??knows how to educate poor kids well.??Without getting into too much nitty gritty (you'll get to hear more in a forthcoming Fordham-Ohio report this May), the school consistently meets Adequate Yearly Progress, posts achievement test scores that outpace the district average, and exceeds expected growth on state tests with its students.

That McGregor teachers don't take academic achievement lightly is reflected in one motto among staff this school year -- ???1.1 away from Excellence??? ??? the number of points that would move them from the rating of Effective (???B???) to the Excellent (???A???) category. The ingredients of McGregor's success (and of other schools in our study) are too many for a blog, but one component stuck out and is worth sharing.

The principal and teachers alike expressed a commitment to constant improvement and appeared genuinely self-reflective (and articulate) about wanting to improve their craft, increase already-high student test scores, and refine and adapt curriculum to meet the needs of students. In fact, ???refinement,??? ???improvement??? and ???tweaking??? were repeated quite often. A Winston Churchill quote hanging on the wall of the principal's office seemed appropriate:

Continuous effort ??? not strength or intelligence ??? is the key to unlocking our potential.

Given the remarkable success of McGregor students, I get the feeling that that's not just a throwaway quote.

--Jamie Davies O'Leary

Image courtesy of Canton City Schools

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