K–8 Charter Schools: Closing the Achievement Gap
Innovations in Education
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The Intergenerational School, Cleveland

School Profile: Selected Variables a

Year First Chartered 2000
Grades Served K-7
Enrollment 114
Student Ethnicity b 86% African-American, 4% White, 1% Asian, 9% Multiracial
Special Education 8%
Free or Reduced-price Lunch b 59%
Annual Cost per Student $8,818

a Unless otherwise indicated, these data are reported by the school and are for the school year 2006–07.
b These data are drawn from the Intergenerational School school report card for 2005–06 posted on Ohio Department of Education Web site.
c Includes aftercare, summer camp, summer school.

Mission and Founding

On the second floor of a building that houses services aimed at successful aging, the Intergenerational School (TIS) is bringing new meaning to lifelong learning. Purposefully located in Cleveland’s Fairhill Center for the Aging, a community resource center which houses physician’s offices, services for seniors, and a Meals on Wheels Association of America program, the school matches its students with local seniors, engaging these elders as partners in the learning process.

The idea for the school was born during conversations between the husband-and-wife team of Catherine Whitehouse, an educator and child development psychologist specializing in reading and learning disabilities, and Peter Whitehouse, a geriatric neurologist and cognitive neuroscientist. Ohio’s 1998 decision to allow charter schools provided the Whitehouses with the opportunity to put their ideas into practice. The couple spent a year working with Stephanie FallCreek, executive director of Fairhill Center, to devise a plan for a developmentally based school for low-income inner-city students. "Healthy aging is a life-span process that starts when you are born," says Catherine Whitehouse, who now serves as the principal of TIS. The school’s philosophy, she adds, is grounded in the work of developmental theorists, such as Piaget, Kohlberg, Vygotsky, and Dewey.

In 2000, TIS opened with 30 students, a staff of two teachers, and a commitment to placing students in classrooms by their developmental stage rather than chronological age. That first year revealed how much these students had missed in their early development. "We really were not adequately prepared for how unprepared the children would be," Whitehouse recalls. "[Students] came in and didn’t recognize their name, didn’t know a single letter, and didn’t know how to hold a pair of scissors to cut paper. They didn’t know how to ask for something. I think it is because they have not had early educational experiences, such as preschool."

Since then, TIS has added one developmental stage each year, which is similar to adding a grade level, except that the school organizes students by developmental stage rather than grade level. TIS currently has 114 students enrolled across six developmental stages that correspond to the sequencing of learning from kindergarten through seventh grade. Each grouping includes children from two to three years apart in age. The school expects to add an additional developmental stage in the next two years, once it has the funding base to expand its operations.

School Operations and Educational Program

The school’s structure follows these stages of developmental learning: emerging (grade K–1), beginning (grades 1–2), developing (grade 3), refining (grade 4), applying (grades 5–6), and leadership (grade 7). The school places students into each of the flexible, multiage groupings based on their developmental needs. Within a given classroom, older and younger students work both cooperatively and independently and progress through the stages at their own pace. "I try to instill in the age group that I work with that they can be thinkers and learners," one teacher explains.

The school curriculum, designed collaboratively by the principal and teachers, is aligned to state benchmarks and Ohio content standards. While it deviates from the grade-level structure employed by the state, TIS created an educational program that measures student progress and identifies areas for further instruction so students are academically prepared for high school by the completion of the leadership stage. Individual learning experiences are a hallmark of TIS. According to the annual report, an "individually tailored education address[es] each child’s unique needs and capabilities." No class has more than 16 students per teacher, and all students develop one-on-one relationships with adult reading and math mentors, as well as with the assisted living and nursing home residents they visit regularly. Some stages are designed to take more than one school year to complete, and the range of ages among students in every class ensures that students do not stand out, whether they advance quickly or more slowly through a stage.

In this model, teachers use multisensory, differentiated instruction to build on students’ strengths and meet their developmental learning needs. Students progress from one stage to the next when they have mastered 90 percent of the math, reading, and writing objectives at a 90 percent level and demonstrate proficiency on state assessments. Students can move up to the next developmental stage at any time during the school year if they are ready, and TIS trimester report cards are organized to assess student mastery of skills, values, and standards within a given developmental stage.

Literacy is a major focus within the school. Students engage in 30 minutes of sustained silent reading (SSR) daily in class and are required to complete another 30 minutes of reading at home every night. In addition to SSR, most classes have an additional half hour of sustained silent writing once the students are able to do this independently. The principal trains senior volunteers from the community to serve as mentors and to work with students on reading and math. For students who are struggling, there are several intervention strategies available, including afterschool tutoring by a teacher and support from the Title I instructor during the school day. TIS also contracts with special education teachers to assess and create individual education plans for students and with a part-time speech and language pathologist as necessary.

The Montessori-like classrooms are filled with colorful displays of student projects, vocabulary words, and signs enumerating community values. One classroom, for example, has cloudshaped cutouts reading, "We are: thoughtful, cooperative, truthful, caring, kind, self-controlled, happy, loving, sharers, friends, respectful, listeners, playful, workers." In another classroom, a student selects a "sharing song" for the group to sing; a teacher plays the song on a tape recorder and the class sings along, verbally reinforcing the value of sharing and positive behavior. One board member remarks, "It is unusual to find this type of a school for inner-city kids," and the annual report describes TIS as an oasis of vibrant learning, uncommon in its poor eastside Cleveland neighborhood.

"It is our belief that learning cannot take place in chaos," says principal Whitehouse. "School should be a calm, peaceful, respectful, and exciting place to learn. ‘High expectations’ does not mean regimentation, but it does mean that what every student is expected to do and to learn is made very clear." The school dress code of dark pants, jumper, or skirt and a plain, colored shirt also helps create a calm climate. "Students are accountable for their choices both behaviorally and academically and learn to make good choices by experiencing the natural consequences, both the good and bad," Whitehouse says. Four schoolwide rules set high expectations for behavior: (1) Be respectful (of yourself, others, and school materials such as books); (2) Be where you are supposed to be at all times; (3) Keep your hands, feet, and objects to yourself; and (4) Remember that one person speaks at a time. Many teachers use classroom incentive programs, quotations from famous individuals, and music, such as the sharing song, to help students develop positive on-task behavior norms.

The students—86 percent African-American and 9 percent multi-racial—attend school from 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. An after-care program that ends at 6 p.m. is available to help working families. Even though the school lacks the resources to provide transportation, it maintains a 96 percent attendance rate and a 90 percent average retention rate from year to year. Beginning in January, there is a six-week open enrollment period in which any student in the state of Ohio may enroll in TIS. Returning students are guaranteed a space, and preference is given to siblings and residents of Cleveland. If the school receives more applicants than there are spaces available, TIS uses a lottery to select new students.

TIS created its own internal authentic assessments to evaluate student progress throughout the school year. In conjunction with the Ohio state tests, which include a beginning-of-year diagnostic screening and achievement test, the school can determine if students are making adequate progress and can intervene or make referrals as necessary. The school’s assessment allows the staff to closely monitor academic progress in between state benchmarks.

External Partnerships

TIS works closely with parents, families, and the community to support students. By providing flexible meeting times for parent-teacher conferences, the school has consistently enjoyed a 100 percent participation rate. The school reaches out to parents in other ways: The school newsletter, TIS Community News, which provides families with information regularly; notices sent home by teachers in homework folders; and school events, such as family math night, when teachers model working with children on math assignments. TIS also runs a six-week summer school for students who need additional academic help and assists families in applying for other summer programs and scholarships. The school would like to continue to increase its outreach to parents. "The best intergenerational programs have kid-only time, adult-only time, and time together," Whitehouse says. "What we don’t really have well developed is the adultonly part, and that’s where that would include parent education. I would love to have a GED program available here for parents who have not completed a high school degree."

In interviews for this guide, parents raved about the individual attention their children receive at TIS and point to the principal’s approachability as a key factor in making the school atmosphere warm and welcoming. One parent explained that for her child, a special education student, "the piece of paper that is the [individualized education plan] has turned into something real in that classroom." Another parent commented that her daughter used to hate to go to school prior to coming to TIS. "We had to fight about it every day," she recalls. "There was no one-on-one attention at that school." TIS has transformed her daughter’s relationship to school, she continues, "Now, she can’t get enough of this school. I love the atmosphere in the classrooms, the communication, and the high academic standards." A third parent chimed in, saying, "TIS has been the answer for us. The process of education is incredible here because every child is treated as an individual."

Community partnerships are critical to TIS fulfilling its intergenerational mission. Teachers work with nursing home facility coordinators to plan meaningful exchanges between students and residents during monthly (and, for older students, weekly) visits. The school and the partner facilities have found that the visits benefit both the children, who often internalize a sense of worth and belonging, and the seniors, who more frequently engage mentally and emotionally with children than with staff.

The location of TIS within Fairhill Center helps sustain local collaborations. Within Fairhill, the Senior Adult Resource Center recruits volunteer tutors and mentors from its population. The center facilitates an after-school museum explorer program, in which seniors and students together visit the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, and a Cleveland Orchestra music program, in which seniors and students attend performances and learn about instruments. Volunteers from the National Council of Jewish Women come to the school monthly to meet with the parents of younger students, loaning books and discussing ways to read to their children.

Other external partnerships have included Groundworks, a contemporary dance company that worked with older TIS students and seniors to create a dance piece based on science concepts, and Case Western Reserve University, whose nursing students observe classes, plan nutrition lessons, and staff a family health fair during parent-teacher conferences.

Governing for Accountability

Sponsored by the Lucas County Education Service Center, TIS is a nonprofit organization operating under a charter from the state of Ohio. It has been rated excellent for three consecutive years by the Ohio Department of Education, the only charter school in the state to achieve this distinction. TIS recently was recognized by the national Schools That Can network as a high-performing urban school.

A seven-member board of directors oversees TIS’s executive director and chief educator. Executive Director Brooke King manages budgets and finance, compliance, community relations, marketing, fund-raising, facilities, and development and coordination of volunteer programs, as well as hiring and supervising nonteaching staff. Principal Whitehouse is the school’s chief educator. She hires and supervises teaching staff, classroom aides, and special education staff, and oversees curriculum, assessment, student learning and behavior, special education compliance, and volunteer training. The board meets monthly to review school governance, finances, and policy, and it strategizes about future growth and fund-raising capacity. In addition to the board, there is a national advisory council comprising experts in medicine, geriatrics, and education with whom TIS consults.

The nine full-time teaching staff are fully certified and rated as highly qualified according to No Child Left Behind guidelines. There is a one-hour staff meeting every other Monday and regular professional development days for working on curriculum development and projects, such as redesigning the school report card. In addition to scheduled training time, teachers highlight their extensive informal collaboration. New teachers are paired with veteran teachers who serve as mentors, and the principal observes and coaches teachers frequently. "It’s my job to help the teacher figure out how to make each child succeed," Whitehouse says. "When a teacher is having difficulty figuring out what to do for a child, we will sit down and brainstorm together." A new teacher’s experience at TIS illustrates the principal’s commitment to helping her staff blossom. "The best thing about this school is Cathy Whitehouse," the teacher says. "My first year of teaching, she was there every single step of the way. She held my hand through the entire process."

Funding is TIS’s biggest challenge. On average, teachers at TIS earn $10,000 less than other teachers in the Cleveland public school district. Where most school districts can rely on local funding sources for 47 percent of their total income and do not pay for any of their facility costs, TIS does not get any money from local taxes or levies and must use 13 percent of its limited budget to meet facility costs. The per-pupil cost of the school is $8,820, which includes all intergenerational programs, summer school, and meal programs, but TIS receives only $7,616 per pupil from the state. As a result, TIS must raise about $1,204 per student on an annual basis.

Student Achievement at the Intergenerational School (TIS)

  • TIS is the only community school in Ohio thus far that has been rated "excellent" for three consecutive years by the Ohio Department of Education.
  • State tests show that even students who did not complete a full TIS developmental stage in a given year generally achieved proficiency. For example, of the 39 percent of students who did not complete a full stage during the 2005–06 school year, 88 percent scored proficient on state reading assessments.
  • Compared to the performance of African-American students in the wealthier, suburban Cleveland districts of Shaker Heights and Cleveland Heights-University Heights, TIS students scored higher on state proficiency exams in 2005–06.
  • In 2005–06, TIS made adequate yearly progress, whereas the local district, Cleveland Municipal District, did not.
  • As show in figure 17, in 2005–06, 100 percent of TIS third-graders and sixth-graders scored proficient or above on Ohio Achievement Tests (OAT) in reading and mathematics. Also, TIS students in third and fifth grades significantly outperformed students in the local school district in reading and mathematics.
Figure 17. Percentage of TIS Students Scoring Proficient or Higher on 2005–06 OAT Reading and Mathematics
Grade 3 reading: TIS scored 100%, Cleveland Municipal District scored approximately 51%, Ohio State scored approximately 55%; Grade 3 math: TIS scored 100%, Cleveland Municipal District scored approximately 42%, Ohio State scored approximately 52%; Grade 5 reading: TIS scored approximately 80%, Cleveland Municipal District scored approximately 45%, Ohio State scored approximately 52%; Grade 5 math: TIS scored approximately 60%, Cleveland Municipal District scored approximately 45%, Ohio State scored approximately 52%; Grade 6 reading: TIS scored 100%, Cleveland Municipal District scored approximately 64%, Ohio State scored approximately 64%; Grade 6 math: TIS scored 100%, Cleveland Municipal District scored approximately 41%, Ohio State scored approximately 41%.

Source: Ohio Department of Education, School Report Cards 2005–06.

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Last Modified: 11/17/2009