City schools project featured in booklet

Youngstown team members are featured on a program booklet.
YOUNGSTOWN -- With city schoolchildren as the focus, three separate groups worked together to aid the district in altering its high schools for the future.
When the city schools decided to pursue the KnowledgeWorks Foundation's Ohio High School Transformation Initiative to convert each of its high schools into three smaller schools contained within each building, they needed what's called a Center of Strength.
The initiative, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, worked with the Harwood Institute for Public Innovation, to help 21 high schools across the state change into 70 smaller high schools.
Those districts selected for the funding had to involve community groups, what the foundation calls Centers of Strength, to get the community involved in the process.
The city schools project is one of six featured in a KnowledgeWorks/Harwood Institute booklet about the program. Of those included, only the city schools involved a Center of Strength comprised of different groups. Youngstown team members are pictured on the booklet's cover.
Engage the public
The group was to work to engage the public in the process, gauge views and gather input from the community.
Joyce Brooks, coordinator of the Mahoning Valley Vision for Education, said it was Ben McGee, former school superintendent, who insisted that more than one group comprise the center of strength.
MVVE, a group of community members, educators and business people, which has the Regional Chamber as its fiscal agent, and the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance were selected.
"Ben McGee had the wisdom to include more than one group," Brooks said. "We were able to bring the voices back from all sections of the community."
Sometimes different groups working together can encounter difficulties because of differences of opinion.
But Brooks said that wasn't a problem.
"We were all committed to make sure that the we kept the kids in focus," she said. "No one had their own agenda."
Harry Christman of the Regional Chamber, who also is a member of MVVE, agreed.
"Everyone knew that the intended outcome was to do what's best for the kids," he said.
Keeping the focus
The Rev. Mr. J. Dwayne Heard of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance believes the model could work in other areas too as long as that philosophy is followed.
"It's not about one organization over another, it's not about you," he said. "It's about the community. The children are the ones who will make up the community in the future."
Mike McNair, city schools spokesman, said the different groups working together gave more credence to the effort, gathering input from various segments of the district population.
"It worked out very, very well," he said. "It's still working very well."
The group is being used to gather public input on other aspects of what's going on in the city schools.
The district started this school year with one small school in each high school building. Next fall, full implementation begins with three small high schools, each with a different focus, within each high school building, McNair said.

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