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Paving the Way for Ohio's First Public Boarding School

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Tuesday, June 26, 2012 at 4:30 AM

The SEED School in Washington, D.C., opened in 1998. First Lady Laura Bush is among the dignitaries who have visited the school.

In about a year, teachers in Cincinnati will be opening Ohio's first public boarding school.

The state will spend about $30,000 per student on the school, about three times the average per-student cost at other public high schools.

The school will be operated by the SEED Foundation.  SEED is a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that runs public boarding schools in Washington and Baltimore.

In many ways, Ohio's first public boarding schools will be similar to those schools. But unlike Washington and Baltimore, in Ohio, SEED is partnering with the local Cincinnati school district to run the Ohio school.

Today, the Ohio Board of Education will get its first look at the details of how exactly the school will be operated as laid out in a contract between the SEED Foundation and the Ohio Department of Education. The full board will vote on the contract next month.

And while this school will be in Cincinnati, the 2011 laws that established the school allow for other, similar schools to open in other parts of Ohio in the coming years.

About the School

Eventually, SEED's Ohio school will enroll 400 students in grades 6-12.  But not just anyone can attend. Currently, only Cincinnati students are eligible, though students from other districts may eventually be able to go, too.

“It is a public school that’s part of the state’s system of public education, but there are private elements to this school. It’s a brand new model of education.”
—Jessica Spears, Ohio Department of Education attorney

SEED students must be at risk of failing their classes and must be from families making less than $45,000 for a family of four. Students must also meet at least two conditions on a seven-point list. That list includes criteria such as having a record of suspensions or truancy; failing state reading or math tests; being from a single-parent household; and having a family member who has been in prison.

The school will open with 80 sixth graders, evenly split between boys and girls, in fall 2013. If more than 80 students apply, then the school will hold a lottery to select its first class, SEED Ohio director Brian Neal says.

Students at SEED schools live in dorms and typically arrive Sunday afternoon and stay until Friday afternoon, Neal says. They get up at 7 a.m., are in class until 4 p.m. They have study halls and other programs on campus, and participate in off-campus internships and other activities.

"We are creating a 24-hour learning environment," he says.

Washington, Baltimore ... Cincinnati?

So why's SEED coming to Ohio? It's largely because of Richard Farmer, a Cincinnati businessman and major Republican donor. The Farmer Family Foundation helped get the 2011 legislation to create Ohio's SEED school passed, and plans to contribute millions in the coming years to support the school, says Neal.

"We were very fortunate to have their interest," Neal says.

Farmer Family Foundation Executive Director Mary Beth Martin referred all questions about the new boarding school to SEED.

Is It a Public School?

Ohio's SEED school will be supported by public money, but it won't be a traditional public school. And it won't be a charter school either, says Ohio Department of Education attorney Jessica Spears.

"It is a public school that's part of the state's system of public education, but there are private elements to this school," she says. "It's a brand new model of education."

Here's how the SEED school will be funded: For each Cincinnati student who enrolls in SEED, the Cincinnati school district will forward several thousand dollars to SEED. On top of that, SEED will get an additional $25,000 per student in state and possibly federal money, Spears said. And SEED's board can also apply for several million dollars in state funding to build its classrooms.

Meeting Standards

Because the SEED school isn't a traditional public school and isn't a charter school, different rules about the consequences for poor academic performance apply. The contract the board will consider tomorrow lays out the consequence for failing to meet certain standards, including termination at the end of the school's six-year contract, Spears says.


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