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Sparking underachieving students -- the Shaker Heights way

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In the main office of Shaker Heights High School hangs a large blue and white banner bearing the presidential seal and in large red letters proclaiming: ''Excellence in Education 1982-83.'' The banner is a token of the Reagan administration's recognition of the school as a model of educational achievement. such accolades are not new in a school which, for most of its 53 years, has stood out for achieving results consistently above national averages. For decades, Shaker Heights High School has been associated with excellent college placement and high achievers.

But more recent here is an effort to pay greater attention to the needs of underachieving students, who for lack of motivation or organization or outside encouragement aren't getting results commensurate with their potential.

''The problem of low achievement -- especially among minority children -- has been a major issue here in recent years,'' says Mark Freeman, director of curriculum and instruction for the school district. ''In that you might say we're defying national trends,'' he adds, alluding to new emphasis across the United States on the kind of high achievement for which Shaker is already known.

Over the past few years Shaker Heights has taken a number of steps, including setting up after-school tutoring centers for students who are lagging behind their peers, creating all-day ''achievement centers'' where students can seek academic assistance, and bolstering literacy instruction for students who are falling behind.

The new emphasis is in large part the result of demographic changes in this 70-year-old planned community just outside Cleveland. Originally known as an enclave of parklike neighborhoods for high-salaried professionals, Shaker Heights over the past two decades has taken on a much broader economic and racial mix. Forty-three percent of the students are minorities; about 40 percent are black.

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