Middletown school board candidates agree district needs to improve rating

They say early education, training teachers will be keys to more success.

The three incumbent Middletown City Schools board members discussed reasons for the district’s continued poor performance on the Ohio Department of Education annual review of the state’s public schools.

The Chamber serving Middletown, Monroe and Trenton hosted a candidate forum Wednesday night in the Council Chambers. Three of the five running for the three open seats attended.

Board President Chris Urso, Anita Scheibert and Verlena Stewart were present, while Charles Cokeley and Holly Snow were unable to attend the forum due to scheduling conflicts, according to Rick Pearce, chamber president.

The forum was moderated by Michael Pitman, a reporter at the Journal-News and the questions came from the chamber’s Government Relations Committee.

The state recently released the report card results and Middletown Schools continued its streak as one of the lowest-performing Butler County districts with an overall 2-star rating.

The ODE rating system is in its second year of using new methodology, switching from its former use of letter grades for districts to a 1-5 star rating, with 5 being the highest score.

Middletown scored a 57.6% in performance index, the lowest of the 10 Butler County public schools.

The four-year graduation rate in Middletown was 86.8%, down from its 2022 rate of 88%

Urso, a product of a family of educators, said some Middletown students enter kindergarten without “fundamental skills” so their starting point is different when compared to others.

“It’s not an excuse,” Urso said. “We need to do better. It’s crazy to me that you can begin something and be behind. When we compare against other district at times, it fails to acknowledge fully some of those equations.”

The district needs to continue investing in pre-school and early education, according to Urso.

Stewart, filling the term that was created when Michelle Novak resigned, certainly agreed.

As executive director of Community Building Institute at the Robert “Sonny” Hill Community Center, Stewart has worked in the pre-school education arena for years.

“We have to focus on getting our kids prepared for kindergarten,” she said. “Pre-schools are essential. Focusing on birth to 5 is essential. If we do not we are not going to be able to advance the way we like in subsequent grades. The community has to wrap its arms around pre-school and early learning. Critical. Critical. Critical.”

While Scheibert said “it breaks my heart that we got the number we got,” she added the district is taking steps “behind the scenes” to improve its rating. She said in the last eight years, first under Superintendent Marlon Styles and now under Superintendent Deborah Houser, the district has created “a whole new approach” in the field of math. She said teachers have received extensive training, funded through grants.

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