MAHONING VALLEY Session targets how businesses can make schools more effective



A national survey shows that 77 percent of Americans favor partnerships between schools and businesses.
By JoANNE VIVIANO
VINDICATOR EDUCATION WRITER
LIBERTY -- Teachers in the suburbs exchanging ideas with teachers in cities.
Business leaders working as "mentors" with principals to provide schools financial, volunteer and in-kind support.
A community that shares diverse ideas for improving its education system.
These are some of the thoughts -- and challenges -- tossed at educators, community leaders and business representatives who attended a "Make Education Matter" community education summit, presented by the Mahoning Valley Vision for Education.
The event at the Holiday Inn MetroPlex was the focus of a Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber breakfast.
"I believe very strongly that our communities will succeed at a level we set for them, just like our children," said Susan Z. Vogelsang, urging leaders to raise the bar.
"The reason the focus really needs to be on educating the community is that it's really up to us. ... If we are satisfied with the level they [school districts] are providing, that's what we'll get."
Vogelsang, community engagement coordinator of the Summit (County) Education Initiative, addressed the local group with SEI President and CEO Barb Greene.
The pair offered ways in which the 5-year-old SEI program -- with a $1.1 million annual budget -- has teamed the community and businesses with school partners to improve education in the county.
"We need to raise the expectations of our communities and our children," Vogelsang said. "Until we do, I assure you our schools will not improve. So the people who are accountable in our communities are us."
First step
Also presenting MVVE with examples of success was David W. Rubin, director of the business-school partnership program at the Cleveland Initiative for Education.
The MVVE initiative, which began in early 2001 after a Chamber education summit, seeks to replicate some of the efforts of groups like SEI.
MVVE has pulled together partners from the Chamber, Youngstown State University, Kent State University Trumbull Campus and various school districts, businesses and social service agencies.
To get the ball rolling, the group seeks to distribute and collect questionnaires regarding education priorities and roadblocks.
Once those are collected, focus groups will be held, said Dr. Sherry Lee Linkon, a YSU professor who heads up the group with Dr. John Robertson, director of institutional research at KSU-Trumbull.
The group will then identify a plan that it hopes to present to the community this summer or fall, Linkon said.
A majority of Americans support partnerships between the private sector and schools, according to results of a recent poll by the National Association of Secondary School Principals and the Association of School Business Officials International.
Of those surveyed, 77 percent "very" much or "somewhat" approved of such partnerships and 73 percent said they offer great or some value.
A majority -- 45 percent -- said they prefer business partnerships to fund at-risk programs over other options, such as increasing taxes. Nine percent favored banning such partnerships even if it meant programming would suffer.
Cleveland's story
In Cleveland, home to the state's largest school district, more than 200 business partners assist the community's 126 schools and 76,000 students, offering financial assistance, volunteers and in-kind donations at the individual school level, Rubin said.
He said attendance rates and proficiency levels have gone up and one troubled school is now getting help from the commitment of a new principal and a partner with employees willing to get their hands dirty.
"Businesses understand the competitiveness of the region," Rubin said, "and that they need to become involved in education to impact the competitiveness of that region."
Vogelsang said communities must be involved, but getting them to embrace plans can take some persuading.
"Help people understand that the quality of education matters to the quality of life in your community," she said.
She threw out some facts to show ways to convince them.
Though it costs $6,800 to educate a student for a year, it costs $40,000 to incarcerate an inmate in Summit County jail and $19,475 to hold someone in a state prison, she said.
And in Indiana, she said, "they plan how many jail cells to build based on second-grade reading levels."

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