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School's Out, Education's In

By John Fox · May 21st, 2008 · Editorial
Another school year is ending for local kids, and with it come mixed emotions.

Milestones are passed and achievements made, the Class of '08 graduates and others move to middle school or high school. At my daughter's elementary school, they're packing up and getting ready for a brand new building next fall.

Elsewhere, trouble lingers, test scores fall short and too many teenagers won't graduate with their friends. The clock ticks, and another generation risks being left behind.

Three stories in the news over the past week highlight these mixed emotions.

First up is Margo Pierce's story "A Path Through the Weeds", which follows a partial day in the life of Craig Hockenberry, principal of Oyler Elementary School in Lower Price Hill. Like many Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS) facilities, Oyler literally is a home away from home for its neighborhood kids and families.

The school feeds its students, provides medical and dental care and offers the only encouragement to learn many kids will ever know.

Oyler now runs through 12th grade in order to stem the dropout rate among its Appalachian population base. Hockenberry says to many of his students he's the only father figure they've ever known.

Just in his mid-thirties, Hockenberry was a ball of energy during the half day Pierce spent with him. He told her he hasn't taken a sick day this school year because he's afraid he'd miss something important in one of his students' lives.

The Enquirer ran a front-page story about a troubled school year at Porter-Hays Elementary in the West End. The principal, a 30-year CPS veteran, resigned in October when his school's move to its new building resulted in student-on-student and student-on-teacher violence and general chaos.

Economic and social conditions in Lower Price Hill and the West End are pretty poor, so it's hard for teacher and principals to get kids there to learn anything when they're also serving as substitute parents, nurses and security guards. Many respond to the crisis with positive energy, like Hockenberry, and others wear down from the constant pressure and the apathy they face in the community.

Last week, a judge in Hamilton released a man from jail to see if he could get his daughter to finish up her GED requirements. The man had been jailed for "contributing to the unruliness of a child" after two years of court hearings failed to keep his daughter from repeatedly skipping school.

Apparently 11 parents in Butler County were jailed last year under Ohio's truancy law, and this judge wanted to send the message that the daughter was "off to a lousy start" in life.

I'm not sure how many parents in Lower Price Hill or the West End have been jailed because their children skip school, but I don't see how putting parents in jail helps improve the situation at home. I do understand how some want to resort to force when nothing else works.

It's hard not to get emotional when a child's education is at stake.

Contact John Fox: jfox@citybeat.com



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