Breaking away from tradition, Gov. John Kasich gave the first ever State of the State speech delivered away from the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus.
He couldn't have picked a better place.
Regardless of your political bent, regardless of whether you agree or disagree with what the governor said on Tuesday, you would have to agree that his choice of Steubenville for his speech was a good one.
Kasich spoke at Wells Academy. You've probably never heard of it. Frankly, we hadn't either until the past few days. It does deserve the recognition that comes with having the governor deliver such an important message from its location. For good reason.
The award-winning facility was selected Ohio's No. 1 public elementary school in the state's first school ranking based on student test scores. That is No. 1 as in the entire state. Ponder how many schools there are that Wells surpassed. Most impressive is that the school, located on the first-floor wing of Steubenville High School, is situated in a less than flourishing environment. Steubenville was once one of the industrial mights located along the Ohio River. Not any longer. There are old steels mills and dilapidated houses aplenty. More than half of Wells' students come from poor households. Economic conditions haven't stopped the brilliance of the students.
Consider: Last year, every third- and fourth-grade student at Wells passed state assessments in math and reading, and more than 70 percent performed at "advanced" levels. Wells had achieved a 100 percent mark on the tests yearly since 2006 after falling just short in a few previous years. If you are curious for the sake of comparison with other schools in the state including those in our area, visit the Ohio Dept. of Education's website at www.education.ohio.gov. Go to the "Accountability" option and proceed from there. It's pretty easy to navigate.
The Associated Press story we published shared a simple question that the Wells Academy principal daily asks of his students. "Why are you here?" Principal Joe Nocera asks students during announcements each morning over the public-address system. They respond in unison: "To learn!"
When he asks who is responsible for their learning and behavior, their emphatic answer is: "I am!"
Actually the students have a lot of help. Nocera was the first in his steel-working family to attend college. He returned to Steubenville with a teaching degree and was high-school band director and principal at another elementary school before taking over at Wells three years ago. It was a sage move. He leads by example.
According to the Associated Press account, Wells cites a committed staff, supportive parents and small classes, along with district-wide policies and curriculums that support students, teachers and administrators. In other words, a consummate team effort.
A highly-structured curriculum mode called Success for All has been a big plus. The program adopted 13 years ago focuses heavily on reading. Students start every day with 90 minutes of reading and language arts before switching to math for 75 minutes.
He said the school started Success for All to bring up struggling students but found high-performing students also benefited.
The curriculum is "very scripted and explicit and teaches teachers how to use data to make decisions about individual students," said Mary McVey, the head of the education department at nearby Franciscan University, which sends student teachers to Wells and other area schools.
"Education tends to be, 'Let's try this,' and a few years go by, and if they don't see the results, they go with something else," she said. "You have to stick with it."
Sounds like a solid plan - a model program for other schools to follow. Congrats to Wells Academy for being at the head of its class and proving that a solid approach to education from all committed participants can overcome a bad economic environment. Poor conditions don't always produce a poor education.