Group sets model for better schools

MVVE will help produce education programs for a new on-demand channel.
WARREN -- Two years after forming, a group of educators, business and community leaders has become a blueprint for other groups aimed at improving education.
Mahoning Valley Vision for Education formed out of a Youngstown-Warren Regional Chamber education summit in December 2001.
"We wanted to develop a vision based on what people want," said Joyce Brooks, MVVE coordinator.
The multitiered vision, developed after conducting focus groups and completing surveys, calls for all Valley residents to be engaged in lifelong learning by 2010 "that enables them to pursue productive futures and contribute to the community."
Research uses
Since its formation, MVVE was asked to provide information to the Youngstown State University Board of Trustees when it was deciding to implement its early college program with the Youngstown City Schools.
Brooks said the group presented information, culled from surveys and focus groups it conducted, that showed community support for the early college plan. After that presentation, representatives from Knowledge Works, a foundation helping to fund early college, asked for a copy of the information presented.
"They're going to use our information and process as an example of what community engagement really means," Brooks said.
MVVE also is one of three education/community organizations asked by Time Warner Cable to produce programs for a new, free on-demand channel. Education Matters will begin broadcasting next month.
The other groups participating come from Summit and Stark counties and have been in place for many years, MVVE members say.
Information gathering
When it was formed, group members wanted to counter the "brain drain" of young people leaving the area after obtaining their degrees and encourage more people to pursue college degrees.
Brooks referred to a 1999 study by the Harwood Institute that called Youngstown "a city in waiting." That same report listed Youngstown State University, Youngstown-Warren Regional Chamber and the United Way as catalysts for change in the region.
The process to achieve the vision statement involved 300 surveys distributed to groups and individuals and focus groups of about 600 participants from a cross section of both counties.
"There was a very interesting feeling of hope," Brooks said. "We never left a meeting where someone didn't say something very nice about their school system."
Participation included young people who Harry Christman of the Chamber, an MVVE steering committee member, said were initially skeptical of the process. Once the young people realized group members were genuinely interested in their views, they opened up, he said.
Top priorities
Although groups talked of problems and difficulties facing particular school districts, there were common threads.
"The No. 1 issue was they want their children to be safe when they go to school," Christman said.
Other things expressed were a desire for children to learn and be motivated, prepared for life-long learning and have career opportunities locally.
Those who responded identified adequate funding for education, parental involvement, quality education for every school district, business/education partnerships and relevant curriculum as top priorities.
What happens in one area of the region affects the rest, said Robert L. Faulkner Sr., an MVVE member.
"In my judgment, it behooves all of us to work together," he said. "Education provides the best opportunity for the young people who are here."

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