Bellaire’s ‘School of Promise’

NEFFS – For the second time in three years, Bellaire Middle School has been named a School of Promise by the Ohio Department of Education.

To be so named, a school not only must prove that its students perform at a high level, but that all of its students are performing at a high level.

Some of the criteria includes:

– The school serves 40 percent or more economically disadvantaged students

– AMO grade of A or B

– The ‘All Students’ group and ‘Low-Income’ and ‘Racial/Ethnic’ subgroups achieve 75 percent or greater efficiency.

– Progress grade must be A, B or C.

– and, if applicable, the graduation rate must be an A or B.

Ohio Achievement and Ohio Graduation tests provide the figures for grades 3-8 and 10.

“It’s a testament to the students, the staff, the parents … it’s really a team effort,” Principal Derrick McAfee said. “Even we’re economically disadvantaged as a district and we’re finding a way to get every kid, in every situatation, to achieve.”

“It’s a testament to how hard the kids, parents and teachers are working. It’s a big challenge, but they are finding ways to get it done.”

“When you have everyone tugging on the rope the same way, amazing things can happen.”

In terms of the teachers, this designation was made possible by the staff’s willingness to go above and beyond the call of duty. That includes long hours put in outside of normal classroom hours.

“The teachers are willing to go above and beyond from the class period to give the kids the extra assistance they need,” said John Farrier, a teacher at the school. “A lot are willing to come in and help out.”

In trying to reach all students, the staff also has to account for the students whose interest in scholastic achievement is starting to wane.

Most students in the elementary levels are excited about learning and to be at school and motivation is not quite as difficult.

But as middle-school age rolls around, kids are starting to develop their own sense of identity and personalities will start being displayed. Sometimes, this personality is of the ‘I’m too cool for school’ variety. Other times, a student may have so many outside issues weighing on their minds that school doesn’t rate nearly as high on their priority list.

And in a district where the number of economically disadvantaged kids is higher, like Bellaire, you may have kids more worried about where their next meal is going to come from than the upcoming pre-algebra test.

Yet Bellaire finds a way to reach them all.

“The whole staff does a great job reaching kids that aren’t motivated and is able to motivate them,” Farrier said. “They excel at reaching those kids.”

McAfee agrees, noting that “We have the attitude here that, if you are not in class, you aren’t learning. We don’t just remove a kid or kick them out (of class) if they become a discipline problem. We impart the importance of getting and education and our discipline (issues) have gone down so much, thanks to all the staff and the hard work they do.”

And the school has been able to do this, despite the changes in curriculum in Ohio recently that have forced teachers, not to reinvent the wheel, but to make major changes to the way they approach their own classroom and how the building will approach instructing different content levels as a whole.

Teaching is an organic career. It’s always changing. Teachers strive to find methods that resonate with the most kids, but even then, not every kid learns or responds to the same methods.

That part of the job is a definite challenge, made more so by the recent changes. But for every challenge, there is an opportunity … one that the Bellaire teaching staff has seized.

“In a lot of ways, it’s forced me to be a better teacher,” Sheri McAninch said. “You have to do research and find new ways to teach, new ways to grab their attention.

“These are the best and most fun years that I’ve had teaching.”

The Bellaire teaching and administrative staff has been able to accomplish this, despite some financial difficulties district wide. The plight of the Bellaire School District is no secret across the area.

Sometime tonight, the fate of the district’s school levy will be decided by voters, the seventh attempt in recent years to get a mechanism to increase funding in place.

“We’ve had a lot of things cut here,” Science teacher Chris Arno said. “But we continue to try and step up to the plate, all on a tight budget, and do more with less.

“We take a lot of pride in our community and in our district and we strive to the best with what we are given.”

Hughes may be reached at