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MAHONING VALLEY Group aims to unify education boosters



Published: Tue, May 7, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



The no-name group hopes to raise the region's low education levels.

By RON COLE

VINDICATOR EDUCATION WRITER

YOUNGSTOWN -- Dozens of initiatives to improve education in the Mahoning Valley, some with fancy names and snappy acronyms, have come in with great fanfare and faded with great silence over the past two decades.

Yet the region's educational levels have remained among the lowest in the nation.

A new group of academic, community and business leaders wants to change that pattern.

The group, formed out of the Youngstown-Warren Regional Chamber's Education Summit 14 months ago, has no official name, no officers and no headquarters.

But what it has, members say, is tons of enthusiasm, determination and a vision for improving education in the Mahoning Valley.

Looking to the community

"Educators are telling us that they don't hear from the community," said Dr. John Robertson, director of institutional research at Kent State University-Trumbull and one of the group's leaders.

"They get pulled in so many different ways. What they're looking for is some clear direction from the community. That's what we want to do."

The group, unofficially named "Creating a Mahoning Valley Vision for Education," met with nearly 50 business people, community leaders, parents and educators at Youngstown State University Monday evening to kick off a discussion on ways to improve the education of pre-schoolers to adults in Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties.

The group will continue meeting over the next several months, developing priorities, setting goals and expectations and, by next spring, implementing a plan.

"This process will not be finished quickly," said Joyce Brooks, a member of the Mahoning County Educational Service Center's governing board.

Brooks and Robertson are among a handful of people on the group's steering committee. The Chamber, KSU-Trumbull and YSU are the major sponsors.

A variety of people

Dr. Sherry Linkon, a YSU professor and steering committee member, said what makes this effort different is the wide variety of people -- from parents to business people, from Columbiana to Warren -- who will participate.

"If you've got all of these different education groups and business groups and community groups working separately and all say they have the same goal, that they all care about education, but they're doing it by going in different directions, what we're doing is wasting a lot of time and energy, and probably a whole lot of both human and financial resources," Linkon said.

"To do it more efficiently and effectively, we need to do it together."

Low ranking

A recent study placed the Youngstown-Warren region near the bottom of the 75 largest metropolitan areas in the nation in terms of educational attainment.

Less than 14 percent of Youngstown-Warren residents have at least a bachelor's degree, compared 27.3 percent in Akron and nearly 26 percent in Canton-Massillon, state records show. The national average is 24.3 percent.

The new group already has accomplished something rarely seen: a collaboration between YSU and KSU-Trumbull.

"The focus is building a shared vision and getting us all sort of on the same page and headed in the same direction," Linkon said. "It was important that both universities be at the core."

"We're both serving this population of people," Robertson said. "We don't serve them well by competing with each other."

The universities have asked the Ohio Board of Regents for a $35,000 grant to help fund part of the initiative.




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