Cincinnati Public Schools’ superintendent shared the ins and outs of the district’s newly adopted strategic plan last week during the second annual State of the Schools address.
Iranetta Rayborn Wright delivered her speech on Thursday, Nov. 9 at the School for Creative and Performing Arts in downtown Cincinnati. While it included an a cappella performance by SCPA students and several award presentations, Wright’s comments centered on the analysis of the current school year and the direction the district hopes to move in the future.
The theme of the minute 90-minute address was Wright’s “ABCs” of academics, behavior and culture. Each of the district’s five strategic priorities outline and clarify intentional areas of work to improve student outcomes aligned to the Cincinnati Board of Education’s approved goals and what they refer to as “guardrails,” or important community values it seeks to ensure representation in the district’s priorities.
- Support Our Students
- Equip Our Educators
- Connect Our Community
- Ignite Innovation
- Optimize Operations
By implementing the plan, the district vows to “value and support” the work of all employees, better include students’ voices in decision-making, improve cultural competency and ensure equitable outcomes for all students, Wright said. She also promised CPS would work toward these areas with “rigor and transparency.”
“I am fully committed to making CPS a model district, not only in Cincinnati, but throughout our state and across the country,” she continued.
An area of concern for the district is to continue making academic improvements.
In 2022-2023, the Ohio Department of Education gave the district a rating of 2 overall on a 5-star scale in its annual report cards. The report cards – given to each district and each school individually – look back on a school year and provide information on such areas as students’ performance on statewide tests, graduation rates and early literacy rates.
This year, 27 of 43 elementary schools in the district earned 3, 4 or 5 stars. Meanwhile, only six of 18 high schools earned 3, 4 or 5 stars. The schools that receive 5 stars are Spencer Center, Rising Stars@Carthage and Walnut Hills.
Still, the district has made great strides in recent years, Wright emphasized. In 2017-18, only 39.3% of all scores earned a rating in the top three tiers. The number was 45.6% in 2019-20. Last year, the number jumped to 54%, and the district was just 0.018 points from reaching 2.5 stars overall.
The district’s work this year centers on what Wright labeled instructional shifts, pedagogy and student engagement. Key aspects of that approach involve improving professional development for educators, adding support for English Language Learner families, enhancing student progression plans and expanding instructional reviews, she added.
CPS has also instituted a new code of conduct, which emphasizes restorative practices and promotes equity to reduce discipline disparities. The approach focuses on using disciplinary measures that provide consequences but that don’t put students at further risk academically. One of the basic premises is that students will be happier if people do things with them, rather than to them or for them.
An example provided by the district is the decision to move away from out-of-school suspensions in favor of other in-school reprimands. The goal, according to a CPS spokesperson, is to ensure a student who may already be at risk academically isn’t removed from the classroom and their classmates for an extended period.
Beyond encouraging improved behavior, restorative practices aim to promote self-accountability, build social-emotional skills and develop better and more effective teacher-student relationships, Wright said.
Another priority is reducing absenteeism districtwide. Chronic absenteeism is defined as a student missing at least 10% of their school days throughout the year.
The district saw 53.2% of all K-12 students reach the chronically absent levl in 2021-22. That included 60.6% of all Black students.
CPS has worked over the past 12 months to institute several new school-level supports, including things like home visits before a student becomes severely chronically absent, Wright said. The district has added several new specialized positions, including an assistant principal, social workers and counselors specifically concentrating on attendance and graduation. CPS has other counselors and social workers in every school to assist with other needs.
Wright described it as being part of what she called “PBIS,” Positive Behavior Intervention Supports.
CPS made progress in absenteeism issues last year, dropping to 45.9% district wide and is working to 36% by May 2025.
The district is currently at 38.6% for this school year through the first quarter. Nationally, urban school districts hope to have a number no higher than 30%, Wright said.
Over the last year, CPS has also uploaded security equipment and systems inside schools to promote safety. Wright promised the district is also monitoring and refining transportation services and continuing recruitment for key roles. She also emphasized the important role parents, guardians and the overall community will continue to play in supporting student success.
Wright called on all residents of Cincinnati to “be present” throughout the school year.
CPS launched the “Be Present!” campaign for the 2022-2023 school year to help key stakeholders find their own special way to support students. During the State of the Schools event, several students, community partners, teachers, staff, principals and parents received recognition for their work and commitment to the initiative.
“It’s imperative that we build on our achievements through a culture of accountability and a celebration of our students, staff, families and community as we come together to ‘be present’,” Wright said.