YOUNGSTOWN SCHOOLS Thirteen want seats on board of education
One candidate is a former board member who resigned in 2000.
By JoANNE VIVIANO
VINDICATOR EDUCATION WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- New board members taking over in Youngstown will inherit a district emerging from academic emergency while in the midst of a superintendent search and a $182 million school facilities improvement project.
The seven-member board could see anywhere from two to four new faces after the election. With four seats open, only Geraldine Sullivan and Terri O'Connor-Brown seek re-election. They face 11 other candidates.
Sullivan said a priority is to search nationally for a new superintendent who can communicate effectively and move the district more quickly toward effectiveness and excellence.
She said progress has been made by requiring principal evaluations based on academics and attendance, creating a program that uses data to identify "gaps" in learning on a regular basis, and having staff who make contact with parents who need assistance.
She proposes that a structured "military-style" school be developed for habitual truants, using a closed building and collaborating with the juvenile court system. She also wants to work with juvenile court to require parents of truant students to take parenting courses.
Incumbent O'Connor-Brown, who works as a clerical specialist at Youngstown State University, said she has learned much over the past four years and hopes to continue to serve the district. Her main goal is to start a teachers' forum that allows teachers to share what they're going through and encourages creativity.
O'Connor-Brown, who raised two city schools graduates as a single parent, said she'd also like to restructure curriculum to do away with homework because it destroys family life. It should be replaced by the best, most creative teachers who can reach every child, she added.
And, while schools should not be responsible for social work, good teaching would also lure the at-risk students to school, the board member said.
Alycia M. Bolds is mother to a Chaney High School graduate and one son who attends the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow Internet-based charter school. She said a priority is to ensure that no children are "forced" out of school but that all are educated, through alternative means if necessary.
Other plans are to ensure that minorities are hired in the school construction project; and that research is used to find ways to challenge children. She volunteers for the district in various reading programs and as a parent liaison for the alternative school.
Jamael Tito Brown said his eight years as a caseworker for the Mahoning County Children Services Board helped him see a side of the community that makes him understand that educators must delve into why students act the way they do.
Among his goals are to bring pride back to the city, bridge the gap between the board and the community to let parents and children know the board cares about them, and to create a financial literacy program to bring business volunteers into the schools to teach children life skills.
As an attorney, Patricia Dougan has helped many young women with small children who are losing homes because they don't have skills needed to hold a job. She said she's running for the board to help prevent the problem from going on to another generation.
She said the school district should provide training in life skills and parenting and provide incentives to students and parents to encourage attendance. She also wants to encourage neighbors to help one another, to find unique ways to fund programs and to improve the district so youngsters remain in the public schools.
Candidate Kathryn Hawks Haney, who has served as a foster parent to 200 children, said she wants "to represent the children." She wants to get parents back into schools to be aware of what is happening there. She also said the district should take responsibility for violence in schools and reform the program for students with behavior problems so they are not isolated in the basement of the Choffin building.
She also would like to start a program through which volunteers help youngsters go to school clean and dressed. Hawks Haney also serves as coordinator of the Bennett Elementary School Ohio Reads program and on various community boards.
Former board member Don Hanni III resigned from the board in 2000, saying he disagreed with plans of Superintendent Benjamin L. McGee on the tax levy that voters approved to pay the 20 percent local share of the school improvement project. The resignation also came months after a DUI conviction for which he was sentenced to five days in jail.
Since the resignation, Hanni has served as a substitute in the city district, working mainly with severe behavior handicapped students and Head Start preschoolers. He proposes an overhaul of the SBH programming that has labeled 21 percent of students as behavior handicapped; he wants to turn the former Madison school building into a complex for such kids that would include three buildings and a dormitory.
Wants to downsize
He further wants to downsize the district to turn the Paul C. Bunn Elementary School in Boardman over to the Boardman district and to turn Coitsville students to the Campbell district.
Shelley Murray taught adults for five years at the Community Corrections Association until she left this spring to raise her children and sell gourmet foods through home parties. She said the experience helped her understand that some parents are unable to help their children and educators must start there. She suggests that teachers receive continuing studies training in cultures, class and alternatives to violence.
She said CCA graduates could be tapped to serve as mentors to Youngstown students and that the community, including neighbors and grandparents, should be encouraged to help educate youngsters. The status quo in Youngstown must be changed and a new superintendent should not be afraid to ruffle some feathers, she added.
Candidate Krista Ventresco has spent years working with the district to get help for her son who was diagnosed with Attention Deficit and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity disorders at age 5. She said suspensions and expulsions have cost him dearly and that district officials often failed to provide legally required assessments and education plans.
She said ADD is becoming epidemic, with students roaming the streets because they don't fit in traditional classrooms or in violent alternative school atmospheres. A goal is to provide a place for such students where they can be focused on and their needs be met.
Candidate Michael K. Write said he's come a long way since he was convicted in 1987 of the drug paraphernalia and drug abuse marijuana charges that cost him his job as a detention supervisor at the Mahoning County Juvenile Justice Center. He said he went through treatment and has "absolutely" overcome the problem. In the early 1990s, he was named the Hillside Hospital Triumph of the Human Spirit Award winner and has been involved in the community ever since, serving on several organizations and working in violence and drug abuse prevention and training and life skill development.
He has three children who have graduated from the city schools. The community must pull together and all children can learn if taught in the way they understand, he said. He also asks that the district move forward instead of dwelling on past failures and problems.
Michelle Wrona has worked to represent Youngstown students with special education issues. She said parents should be given more control over decisions involving special education children and that children should be tested at younger ages. Further, she said, teachers should be in-serviced on special education laws.
Wrona also wants to improve truancy and graduation rates by holding parents accountable. She further would like to introduce a required daily living skills course into the curriculum and encourage application for more grants.
Candidates Joyce Lomax and Alexis Wokocha could not be reached.