YOUNGSTOWN Board focuses on academics

Only two districts in Ohio met fewer performance standards on the 2002 state report card.
YOUNGSTOWN -- For the better part of a decade, the city school board's top priority was money.
Specifically, lack of money.
Now, a year after emerging from fiscal emergency and with the district's finances looking up, board members have firmly focused the spotlight on education.
They want to see it improve, and fast.
"We're going to deal with it at every board meeting," board president Lock P. Beachum Sr. said at Tuesday's meeting about boosting the school system's educational status.
"It's not an issue that's here now and is going to go away."
He looked around the room at Superintendent Ben McGee and other administrators. "I can see the staff knows that this board means business," he said.
Board members spent nearly 45 minutes before its regular monthly meeting Tuesday discussing the district's educational progress, from new reading programs in elementary schools to student satisfaction with the vocational programs.
Call for improvement: Beachum and other board members said results must improve. The city schools met five of 27 minimum performance standards on the 2002 state report card, up from four standards the previous two years. The district remains in academic emergency.
Only two school districts in Ohio -- Cleveland and East Cleveland -- met fewer standards. Warren, Columbus, Dayton and Toledo also met five standards.
Two of the standards met by Youngstown were for scores on the state 12th-grade proficiency test. That test is no longer given, so the district is going to lose at least those two standards on next year's report card, which could drop the tally to three.
Performance goals: Tony DiRenzo, executive director of school improvement and support services, said the district has five-year performance goals and is analyzing testing data school building by school building. "We will leave no building behind," he said.
The district offers special tutoring for proficiency tests after school, on Saturdays, during lunch periods and in the summer, he said.
While meeting only five of 27 standards, the district showed improvement in 18 standards.
Board member Gerri Sullivan, chairwoman of the board's curriculum committee, reported on a program at Volney Rogers Junior High School aimed at failing seventh-graders, efforts to start forensic teams in some schools and a new reading program in kindergarten, first and second grades.
Competition: Beachum said education is now a competitive business. The city is home to five publicly funded charter schools enrolling nearly 1,400 pupils, many of them former city school children. And those schools are expanding.
"Parents have options and we must convince them that the best product is here ... and we must do that in the near future," he said.

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