DTM: Wells Elementary School
“It is our belief that we should educate every child the way we would want our children to be educated”
—Melinda Young, former principal
- Steubenville City, Ohio
- Steubenville City School District
- Grades PK-4
- Small city
- DTM awarded in 2008
First recognized as a Dispelling the Myth school in 2008, Wells continues to lead achievement in Ohio.
Under the shadow of the West Virginia hills on the Ohio side of the river lies Steubenville, a hodge-podge of solidly built, well-maintained churches and other buildings; burnt-out brick husks with gaping holes where windows and doors once were; sagging single-family houses and tired public housing projects; warehouses; abandoned businesses; and trash-strewn empty lots — all crammed together in one compact area. The overall impression of Steubenville is that it is a rather sad place
Many such rustbelt cities — losing population and heart — find themselves dropping in academic achievement as the poverty of their families increases. Steubenville, however, has been improving its academic achievement. Today, higher percentages of students meet state reading and math standards in Steubenville than in the state as a whole, even though the district has higher percentages of students of poverty and students of color — and lower percentages of adults who graduated from high school — than the rest of the state.
In 2008, the year Wells was recognized with the Dispelling the Myth Award, Wells was the clear standout of the district. Wells had begun its life as an arts magnet, pulling mostly middle-class students from in and around Steubenville who wanted its intensive music and arts program. Then Wells became a neighborhood school, meaning that about half of its students, many from the nearby housing projects, came from downtown Steubenville.
Many schools would be knocked back by an influx of students living in poverty. Wells is an example of a school that used the strength of its academic program to benefit its new kids.
Some years before, the district had adopted the same school reform model for all its elementary schools — Success for All, developed at Johns Hopkins and one of the few school reform models that has been found to have significant effects. As a district effort, grade-level teachers throughout the district met regularly for training and collaboration to map out pacing guides and lesson plans.
“Systems elevate averages,” is the mantra by which the then-superintendent, Richard Ranallo, operated, by which he meant that a coherent, systematic approach helps individual schools achieve at higher rates than otherwise possible. As such, all the elementary schools in his district have the same curriculum driven by the same comprehensive school reform model; the same school environment and discipline policy; and the same way of using Title I and other federal budget dollars.
Then-principal Melinda Young said that the job of educators was made much easier once the state published its standards. Before that, “we were teaching in the dark,” she said, because teachers never knew what the state expected children to know in order to do well on the state’s assessments.
Since winning the Dispelling the Myth Award, Wells moved into the ground floor of the refurbished high school, and once again became an arts magnet. About 65 percent of its students live in low-income families (compared with about 36 percent of the state), and it continues to help all its students meet or exceed state standards. Because of continued population decline, some of the other elementary schools combined and the district is left with three elementary schools, a middle school, and the high school. Melinda Young currently serves as the district’s federal and state program coordinator, where she oversees, among other things, the Title One federal aid program. All the elementary schools perform above state averages and the secondary schools have made academic progress as measured against the state.
During 2013 the town of Steubenville was rocked by the case of two high school students being found responsible for sexual assault and the accusation that several district officials, including the then superintendent, had not properly reported what they knew.
As of December 2013, former superintendent Ranallo had been brought back as interim superintendent.
- Getting It Done: Leading Academic Success in Unexpected Schools (Harvard Education Press, 2011), features former principal Melinda Young, who is currently federal programs coordinator for Steubenville school district
- How It’s Being Done: Urgent Lessons from Unexpected Schools (Harvard Education Press, 2009) profiles Wells Elementary School.
- School website
- District website
- Great Schools profile