Mary Ronan

When it comes to turning around low-performing schools, “outreach to the community is vital. [Community members] give you that extra push you need when you’re ready to give up.”
— Rick Lohre for Education Week
— Rick Lohre for Education Week
Focus of Strength:School Turnarounds
Position:Superintendent
District:Cincinnati Public Schools

The first order of business for Mary Ronan as the acting superintendent of the Cincinnati school system four years ago was making big changes at more than a dozen of the city’s lowest-performing elementary schools. Many of them had been plagued by stagnant student achievement for more than a quarter-century.

Four years later, none of the 16 schools that Ronan and her team targeted for special interventions is stuck in “academic emergency”—the lowest rung of the Ohio accountability system, and the label most of them shared before the turnaround. A dozen of those schools have reached the level of “continuous improvement”—the midlevel rating—and others have gone on to be rated “effective” or even “excellent.”

“The first year [of the effort] was really hard,” Ronan recalls. “We were asking our teachers to do a lot of extra work; … we got a lot of pushback. There were folks who said we should call it off.” But at the end of that year, some half-dozen of the 16 targeted schools made adequate yearly progress, or AYP, under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, something they had never achieved before.

Read More From the Special Report >