Schools hope to organize efforts
The district wants kids to believe that 'it's cool to come to school.'
By HAROLD GWIN
VINDICATOR EDUCATION WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- George Serrano believes the city school district has more intervention programs to aid students than most any other Ohio district.
The problem is that those programs are fragmented and have no central coordination, he recently told the board of education in a "Safe, Healthy and Caring Schools Initiative" report commissioned by the district administration.
It's not that the district is creating any new programs, said Dr. Wendy Webb, superintendent.
Seeking ways to coordinate and streamline those current intervention programs so they can be used in a more systemic fashion is the goal, allowing the district to be more proactive than reactive to individual student problems and learning issues, she said.
It's all part of the effort to get a critical mass of children thinking, "It's cool to come to school," Webb said.
Serrano, manager of the district's Alternative Education Challenge Grant as well as the Multi-Disciplinary Student Achievement Team, said there is a lot of fragmentation in the delivery of services from the district's various intervention programs.
For example, there are nearly four dozen programs dealing with diverse issues such as special-needs preschool, gifted and talented pupils, learning disabilities, security, mentoring, truancy and physical and mental health.
Youngstown has a number of different community groups coming into its buildings to provide services, along with programs provided directly by school personnel, that need to be aligned and coordinated to provide a continuum of support and targeted programming for all pupils from preschool through graduation, he said.
Serrano said research shows that the more you can refine and direct those services, the more successful you will be in achieving a goal of creating an individual action plan for a student's success.
Children who feel safe and cared for are predisposed to learning, he said.
The district is creating a three-tier model, Serrano said, ensuring that every child gets prevention services; early intervention is given to those who need it, and intensive intervention is provided to the few who require it.
"We want to put the best practice programs into place in all schools and to avoid any duplication of services," Serrano said.
To do that, the initiative proposes to run all programs through an extension of the District Leadership Team (which deals with academics) and setting up a Safe, Healthy and Caring School Team, whose task will be to focus on counseling and removing the barriers to education, Serrano said.
A schoolwide Prevention Intervention Strategies Committee also is being put together, involving school and community representatives, to serve as a subgroup to look specifically at intervention and support services, he said.
The centralization and coordination of services will provide the district with a bigger picture of what is available and what works, Serrano said.
A long-range goal is to foster more community involvement with the schools by getting people to serve on some of these committees and become an active part in eliminating or correcting barriers to education, Webb said.
Adults influence young people's behavior primarily through modeling, Serrano said, adding that part of the safe, healthy and caring schools philosophy is that students are the responsibility of all the community's adults.
The Youngstown School District has about four dozen intervention programs designed to foster pupil learning. Here's a look at a few of them:
Truancy Intervention Program: Uses community leaders in the schools to deal with attendance problems and serve as family advocates. Cost: The district's 517,000 program share is being picked up by Mahoning County Job & amp; Family Services this year.
Mentoring from the Heart: An in-school program providing adult mentors for children in grades 4-8. Cost: 172,000 from a federal grant.
Alternative to Expulsion, Regular and Special Education: Sets up special single classrooms with a maximum of 15 pupils each to continue instruction for children who otherwise would be expelled for various reasons. Cost: 2.7 million from the general fund.
Capturing Kids Hearts: A staff training program provided to every district employee to improve leadership skills and focus on reaching children. Cost: 650,000 from a federal grant.
Increase the Peace: A school, city, civic and religious coalition of groups formed to answer street violence in 2005. It continues to be active in promoting safe schools and safe communities. No direct cost to the district.
Source: Youngstown city schools