By RON COLE
VINDICATOR EDUCATION WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Many people in Tony DiRenzo's shoes would kick back, take it easy and glide into retirement.
But not DiRenzo.
Three years from finishing out a 35-year career, the 55-year-old Youngstown native and veteran educator has saved his greatest challenge for last: Getting the city public schools out of academic emergency.
"I think we can make some significant gains," DiRenzo said. "In three years, I hope to make a big difference."
DiRenzo is the district's executive director of school improvement and support services, a new top administrative position in Superintendent Ben McGee's Cabinet.
Duties of position: It's a big title that boils down to this: Getting the system's 20 school buildings to improve proficiency test scores, attendance and graduation rates on the district's report card.
In 2000 and 2001, the Mahoning Valley's largest school system met four of 27 performance standards on the report card, placing it among 39 districts in Ohio on academic emergency.
A 277-page continuous improvement plan developed a year ago spells out strategies that would boost the number of state academic standards to 16 by 2006, lifting the district out of emergency status.
Gains: "We have made some gains already," DiRenzo said, noting that the district has improved in 17 of the 27 categories. "But we can't slip. We can't lose any of the progress we've made. We need to build on that."
That's why McGee said he created DiRenzo's $71,700-a-year position -- a point person to see the improvement plan through its day-to-day, nitty-gritty implementation.
"It will give us a person to devote more time to specifically being in the buildings, to specifically working with principals and teachers to meet these targets," McGee said.
The district interviewed three candidates -- DiRenzo and two educators from outside the area -- and settled on the lone internal candidate.
Has credibility: McGee said DiRenzo, who taught for 20 years at Sheridan Elementary School before stints as a principal at Madison, Lincoln and Harding elementary schools, is a proven leader with credibility and trust across the school system.
"He isn't seen as one of the boys or milquetoast; he's a hard-working, competent person," McGee said.
DiRenzo, a 1964 Chaney High School graduate now living in Austintown, has spent many days recently in school libraries, auditoriums and classrooms across the city, talking to groups of teachers, principals and other school staff about the continuous improvement process.
At a meeting last week at Paul C. Bunn Elementary School on the city's South Side, he told teachers that their school's improvement plan will drive everything the school does over the next several years.
"No one knows Paul C. Bunn's kids better than you," he said.
He encouraged teachers to talk, brainstorm and develop ideas to make improvements.
"If there's a good idea out there, steal it," he said. "And, if you have a good idea, share it."
Sharing data will be one of DiRenzo's top duties.
Specialists: DiRenzo's office has two administrative specialists, one overseeing teacher training and the other responsible for analyzing test data.
The latter position will generate detailed information about how each student is performing on state proficiency tests.
"Each principal and each teacher will know exactly where the weaknesses are, what items kids are not passing on a regular basis, where we need to focus and generate new ideas as far as instruction, and pinpoint those areas," DiRenzo said.