YOUNGSTOWN School board focuses on a few gains

Board members will meet at 5 tonight to consider hiring mental health professionals to work with pupils who have severe behavior problems.
YOUNGSTOWN -- While acknowledging that the district has a long way to go, Youngstown city schools officials pointed Tuesday to improvements the district has shown on recent state report cards.
"We are making gains. They're not fast enough; that's why we are all full-court pressing ourselves," Superintendent Benjamin L. McGee said during a regular board meeting. "The good news is, we are making gains. We are not moon-walking backward, we are pedaling forward."
Report cards released by the state Department of Education earlier this month showed the district in "academic emergency," meeting four of 22 state standards in the 2001-2002 school year. The standards are based on 20 proficiency test scores from fourth-, sixth-, eighth- and 10th-grade pupils (five each) and the district's attendance and graduation rates.
Tony Direnzo, executive director of school improvement, said a district goal is to have all grades meet proficiency test standards by 2006.
Areas of improvement
He showed the board several areas in which pupils are improving.
Fourth- and ninth-graders showed improvement in all five proficiency test areas. Sixth-graders improved in one area. And 10th-graders showed improvement in two areas, remaining even in a third area.
"We have been making gains," he said. "We have a lot of initiatives in place, and there are some that have been working."
Schools most in need of improvement create action plans based on data from past proficiency tests that can be broken down to show specific areas where individual pupils need the most attention.
"Before you can make decisions on where you need to go, you've got to determine where you are and what it will take to get you there," Direnzo said.
The programs
Programs that the district uses include constant curriculum analysis, special intervention for pupils in need, programs aimed at closing the "achievement gap" between minority and white pupils and several meetings for parents each week.
Board President Lock P. Beachum Sr. urged board members to continue striving for excellence, calling for a focus on pupil achievement as well as on board leadership, planning, structure and accountability. Board members echoed his concern.
Mental health professionals
Also Tuesday, board members discussed hiring mental health professionals to support the district's pupils with behavior problems and their teachers. The plan was tabled when Treasurer Carolyn Funk said she had not heard of the proposal before the meeting and could not guarantee costs would fall within the budget. The board will again consider the proposal at a special meeting tonight.
Director of Pupil Personnel Cindy Caudill recommended hiring bachelor's degree-level professionals and one master's-level professional from Connections, through Sharon (Pa.) Regional Health Systems. Cost would be $49 per hour for the more advanced professional and $30 per hour for the others. Part of the costs could be paid through Medicaid, Caudill said.
Some teachers who have taught these pupils have stayed a few weeks -- one stayed only a few hours -- before quitting.
The professionals would assist teachers in classrooms, observing and offering feedback, intervention and support. The pupils would receive individual counseling and be taught to manage their behaviors.
Caudill said there are 150 pupils in the district who have been identified as emotionally disturbed. The new program would be piloted at West Elementary School, where there is a high concentration of pupils with behavior handicaps. There, they are taught in two classrooms.
Caudill said a goal would be to have these pupils -- about 12 to 16 -- "mainstreamed" into traditional classes within 18 months.
Teacher turnover
Germaine Bennett, executive director of human resources, said there is a great amount of turnover among teachers in the area, showing a need for the support.
"It's very, very difficult to get persons into the program ... with the behavior of the students," she said. "I understand the frustration, so we need to have support there, and to have therapeutic support is just tantamount for the students."

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