Official: Schools need big changes

By Harold Gwin

Schools need to find ways to stimulate their pupils’ brains, the speaker said.

BOARDMAN — Dr. Elizabeth Fesler says American schools need to change radically to meet the changing needs of education, or they will disappear.

High schools need to stimulate their students’ brains to boost learning, and they need to change the way they do it, she said.

Memorization of facts and figures doesn’t do the job anymore. The most important thing is to “teach them to think,” she told a group of educators at the Regional Chamber’s annual “From Steel to Scholars” luncheon at. Mr. Anthony’s on Wednesday.

The event honors school districts in Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties that have been rated as “excellent” on their state report cards.

This year, 20 districts and the schools in the Diocese of Youngstown were recognized for achieving that level of performance.

Fesler said all classes should be 90 minutes in length and all schools should have powerful principals who understand motivation and learning and have the knowledge required to develop a school of excellence.

If schools don’t change, public schools will become smaller and smaller, she warned, noting that researchers say that one-half of the high school curriculum will be available to students online within four years.

Research shows that the brain, if stimulated, continues to grow throughout a person’s life, and schools need to develop programs that stimulate the brain and make their pupils think, she said.

America became a leading economic power because its people have a “ferocious belief” in the power to transform their own lives.

In the 1950s, 70 percent of American teens were in secondary schools while, in Europe, the percentage was well below that mark, Fesler said.

That focus on education gave the U.S. a major boost, but the world has changed quickly, said the Youngstown native who grew up on the city’s East Side and went on to make a name for herself in education in Northeast Ohio. She is now a consultant for Gilmour Academy, a private school in Gates Mills.

Industrial workers have been succeeded by the knowledge workers in controlling the world economy. Schools, which were designed and built for industrial workers and their families, must adapt, Fesler said.

Robert Varley, director of local and state affairs for Dominion, a sponsor of the From Steel to Scholars program since its inception six years ago, offered the audience a look at the importance of education “in real terms.”

His company is looking to fill 200 jobs locally and is having a very difficult time finding qualified candidates for those positions, he said.

Dominion’s work force is aging and replacement of retiring employees with qualified employees is another challenge, he said.

“Education is a top priority for our company as well,” said Paul Harkey, regional manager for Ohio Edison/First Energy, a sponsor of the luncheon.

The company fosters a variety of education programs, offers math and science minigrants to area schoolteachers to develop extraordinary classroom programs and partners with Youngstown State University and other schools to train people to meet its needs, he said.

Tom Humphries, Regional Chamber president and CEO, praised the schools for achieving the high state ranking but cautioned there is still a challenging road ahead.

“It’s a knowledge-based economy ... and we can’t accept less than excellent,” he said.

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