Plans hit, miss mark

Fifteen to 17 schools will be funded between now and August, but Warren Harding isn't one of them.
& lt;a & gt;By DENISE DICK & lt;/a & gt;
A plan to create smaller learning communities within Youngstown's high schools has reached a final phase in the request for funding from a Cincinnati-based foundation, but a similar plan in Warren will have to wait.
The next step in Youngstown is to present the proposal to a KnowledgeWorks Foundation committee and answer its questions, said John R. Tullio, an administrative specialist for the district.
Amount of money
If selected, Youngstown schools would receive $7.5 million over three years from KnowledgeWorks. Final decisions should be announced May 20.
"We're very excited but still apprehensive," said Tullio, who expects that a group of educators will head to Cincinnati next week. " ... I won't sleep for another week."
The Ohio High School Transformation Initiative grant would be used to create "learning communities" of 400 students or less in the two city high schools which will hold 1,200 each after a construction plan is complete.
Warren City Schools requested the same funding, but officials there learned Monday that Warren G. Harding High School wasn't selected for the first round of funding.
They plan to try again.
"They said they wanted more information," said Linda Detwiler, the Warren district's strategic planner. "We can apply again in August."
'Not quite ready'
An e-mail to the school from the KnowledgeWorks' senior program officer read, "while the Warren portfolio received many positive comments, reviewers felt you're not quite ready for OHSTI implementation funding in Round One."
Comments detailing areas of strength and those needing improvement in the portfolio will be delivered to the school by month's end, it said.
Warren and Youngstown were two of about 40 urban school districts across Ohio that received initial funding last fall to study the conversion.
The grants are funded mostly by the Bill & amp; Melinda Gates Foundation, the Ohio Department of Education, and KnowledgeWorks, a foundation in Cincinnati that helps to finance education initiatives in Ohio.
More feedback from the foundation is needed before Warren determines its next step. The panel that reviewed the applications may have wanted to see more information on implementation of the plan.
Principal William Mullane said he intentionally shied away from that because of the emphasis on community involvement. School officials have said throughout the process that a redesign of the school would be done only if the community supported it.
"It seemed like a violation of the process to be designing a school when we're asking the community for input if they want to do it," he said.
Between now and August, 15 to 17 schools are expected to be funded.
Conversion plan
At Harding, the idea is to convert the larger high school into four smaller high schools within the same building.
Each school would have a different focus, such as one for the arts, one for science and so on. Each would have its own budget and principal, but be required to meet state and national academic standards.
The goals are to improve student attendance, academic performance, graduation rate and preparation for post-secondary choices.
In Youngstown, goals are to erase the achievement gap, foster mentorships between students and educators and provide a more rigorous curriculum that shows relevance to everyday life and gives community interaction opportunities.
Each small school community would have a dean; each high school would have a principal.
Another administrator would act as a liaison between the principals and the superintendent.
"It's a great feeling that our teachers were able to sit down with us and put together a proposal that has gotten us this far," said Tullio, adding he'll be biting his fingernails as he awaits final word.

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