By Sherry Hang
Midway through the current school year, and it’s already time to look ahead to next fall when middle-school students must navigate the new world of high school. Lucky for them (and you!), Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS) has a diverse offering of high schools to meet all students' needs and abilities. Open enrollment for high school is just around the corner, so we took the opportunity to check in with four CPS high schools to find out what makes each of them — along with their students and staff — unique.
Clark Montessori High School
Principal Eric Higgins is no stranger to Cincinnati Public Schools. With decades of experience, including over eight years as an assistant principal, he is now living out his first year as a principal at Clark Montessori High School, a perfect place for this strong advocate of the Montessori method.
"I love the hands-on approach," he says, citing the school's commitment to community service and field studies as additional benefits.
As the first public Montessori high school in the United States, Clark Montessori High School has received nationwide attention for student academic achievements. The accolades are well deserved, as students and their families have proven to be committed to the school’s vision. "The kids have to be willing and disciplined enough to do the work," says Higgins, adding that accountability is a requirement for students to perform well. And although a lot of effort happens inside the classroom, the school is also recognized for what happens outside the building, between community service requirements and the many different field studies.
Field studies for all ages start with camping expeditions and expand to experiences like a trip to the Bahamas for eighth-graders to study marine biology. Higgins attended that trip last year and noted that it was a good opportunity for the students and their principal to see each other in a different light, which serves to further enhance the good relationship Clark Montessori staff develops with its students.
Once in high school, a variety of career options and areas of interest are open to in-depth exploration. Higgins points out that students have a variety of options: some have studied art in New York City, others have hiked the Appalachian Trail, while still others are planning a trip to the Philippines this coming spring. Seniors will have the chance to complete a deep year-long exploration into the topic of their choice.
"There's a whole variety of experiences through field studies that really set us apart," says Higgins. More than that, though, he notes, is the excellent staff.
"This is the best teaching staff I've been around,” he says. "They give so much of their time, energy and effort to the students." Higgins admits that education is not always an easy job, but it's the Clark Montessori team that "really makes this place go."
"Anyone who plays a part in the school makes the job easier," he says. "Each adult in the building plays a critical role in touching the lives of each and every student."
Gamble Montessori High School
Coming to Gamble Montessori High School was "a lot like coming home" for Principal Taylor Porter. Having previously served as an assistant principal in the Westerville school district near Columbus, Porter says that being at the helm of Gamble is a "no-brainer," especially considering how welcoming the Westwood community has been.
Like Clark, Gamble follows the Montessori method, and is one of only three high schools in the United States accredited by the American Montessori Society (AMS). According to Porter, one of the main thrusts of a Montessori education involves valorization: guiding children into becoming confident decision-makers.
"We spend time teaching students how to be good people," he says.
That lesson is learned in all kinds of places outside the classroom as well. Gamble students participate in two field studies, or intersessions, each year in the spring and fall.
"We get students out of the building and into nature," says Porter. At the high school level, students can choose a topic for an in-depth exploration, whether that's engineering, justice and peace, or food sustainability. Plus, seniors complete a year-long capstone project.
But that's not all. Students have access to another unique offering at Gamble, the horticultural and agricultural program, about which Porter says he is most excited. Led by teacher Mary Dudley, the program is full of unique opportunities to pave the way for a career in agriculture. Just recently, students planted several trees at the school's campus and attended the National Future Farmers of America Conference.
Whether students intend to join the military, go to college or find employment after graduation, Gamble is about helping them create a plan — a task made easier by all the options available to create a well-rounded graduate. At Gamble, "you're getting the best of what Cincinnati Public Schools has to offer," says Porter.
Shroder Paideia High School
Principal Larry Williams brings what he calls "a different dynamic" to the students and staff at Shroder High School. A retired United States Air Force veteran, Williams also has a background in counseling, which he put to good use at Cincinnati Public Schools before becoming principal at Shroder.
Shroder is the area's only school that incorporates the Paideia method of learning. It's a three-pillar approach, says Williams, that includes a didactic, or teacher instruction, portion; an intellectual coaching portion that focuses on developing critical thinking skills; and in-depth seminar discussions, where the students take the lead over the conversations and teachers serve more as facilitators when needed.
Part of what makes Shroder unique is the school's range of options for the student body. For the past two years, Shroder has participated in an early IT program with the University of Cincinnati. Participants in the program earn one year's worth of college credit toward a degree.
"It's a very rigorous course load," says Williams, adding that students are admitted to the University of Cincinnati upon graduation, often with scholarship.
Another program features a partnership between Shroder, the University of Cincinnati and Kroger, as students explore becoming pharmacy technicians. In addition, Shroder has a wide range of AP classes, including courses in psychology, geography, statistics and more. He points out that many of the teachers are also adjuncts at the University of Cincinnati and Cincinnati State, which means that students are often treated like college students and expectations are accordingly high. However, though the school is considered college-prep, Williams says it focuses on helping students fulfill one of the three E's that is a main goal for all Cincinnati Public Schools: enrollment in higher education, employment or enlistment in the military.
But what really makes Shroder special, according to Williams, is the family environment where students and staff can be accepted for who they are. "We know all our kids," he says, adding that even he felt welcomed with open arms when he first arrived. "Our teachers really care about the kids."
Spencer Center for Gifted & Exceptional Students
After gaining most of her teaching experience in New York City, Principal Nina Ginocchio found that she was ready to "plant some roots" in her hometown of Cincinnati. Fortunately, good timing was in her favor: Ginocchio earned a fellowship that allowed her to earn a master’s degree while serving as an assistant principal for Cincinnati Public Schools. And when the Spencer Center for Gifted and Exceptional Students had an opening, her previous work on new school design made her an ideal candidate for principal. Spencer Center, named in honor of Cincinnati Civil Rights Advocates Donald and Marian Spencer, opened in 2017 and currently serves students in grades 3-10. By 2021, the school will serve grades 3-12.
"I love being a part of something new," says Ginocchio. She adds that a school like Spencer, with its focus on gifted students, afforded her the opportunity to seek out teachers with what she calls an "entrepreneurial" spirt. That attitude makes for a staff that works together as a team to devise solutions for a diverse range of student needs. Ginocchio explains that it's easy to misunderstand what gifted means and looks like. A child who excels at art may struggle with math, or a brilliant math student may have problems with organization and time management. It’s up to the teachers to determine those strengths and weaknesses and create a pathway that helps every student develop to their full potential.
"It's a very team-based school," says Ginocchio, adding that the team approach extends beyond the school to parents as well. Teachers often meet with families, along with other teachers, to develop a collaborative plan that meets each student’s needs and skill set. With such a diverse student body — kids who attend the Spencer Center come from 20 different zip codes across the city, according to Ginocchio — the academic, social and emotional needs can vary, so individualized instruction and coaching are crucial components of the Spencer Center. Even students are in on the teamwork: a student council is in place for both lower and upper grades, and the staff often solicits ideas from the student body.
While students must fulfill all graduation requirements, they also find time in the day to devote to their interests and passions, along with a few "extras." Everyone takes Latin, according to Ginocchio, but the students enjoy an immersive experience that allows them to speak, listen, read and write, similar to how they would study a world language. Additional unique electives include courses in yoga, tai chi and robotics, and new athletic offerings are in the works as well. But each new element or program isn’t added until after careful consideration from Ginocchio and the staff as to how it might fit the school. They want to give students the "opportunity to exercise choice," she says, without watering anything down or overwhelming anyone. It's all about finding the right balance. "We want to do it all," says Ginocchio, "but we want to maintain the integrity of it as we go on."
Clark Montessori High School is located at 3030 Erie Ave., Cincinnati, OH 45208. For more information call 513.363.7100 or visit clark.cps-k12.org. Gamble Montessori High School is located at 3036 Werk Road, Cincinnati, OH 45211. For more information, call 513.363.2600 or visit gamblemontessorihs.cps-k12.org. Shroder Paideia High School is located at 5030 Duck Creek Road, Cincinnati, OH 45227. For more information, call 513.363.6900 or visit shroder.cps-k12.org. Spencer Center for Gifted and Exceptional Students is located at 2825 Alms Place, Cincinnati, OH 45206. For more information, call 513.363.5820 or visit spencergifted.cps-k12.org.