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Resolving city schools dilemma

Published: Sat, September 5, 2009 @ 12:04 a.m.

By Ernie Brown

The headline told the entire story: “Youngstown Schools Ranked Worst in State.”

As I read the story, I kept asking myself, how did this happen?

I know Superintendent Dr. Wendy Webb and the school board members did all they could to try to dig the school district out of its fiscal emergency.

I know several teachers and administrators in the city school district. They are hard-working professionals who truly desire to see children excel in and outside the classroom. But I was not prepared to see the school district dip to rock-bottom status academically.

After all, the Youngstown Early College Program appears to be quite successful. The Youngstown City School District had the best public school teacher in the state, Jennifer Walker of East High.

New schools are under construction. The district is slowly clawing its way back to fiscal solvency.

Yet, the district’s academic standing could not be overlooked. It fell from academic watch to academic emergency. According to the Ohio Department of Education, the district hasn’t met the expected levels of progress for three years. The school district will now have the dubious distinction of having the Academic Distress Commission, the first to be set up in the Ohio, come here to try learn what can be done to improve the school system’s academic performance.

Webb told the media that negative factors such as poverty and student disabilities impact academic performance. She pointed out nearly 20 percent of the district’s 7,000 students are special-needs children, and the poverty rate is pushing 90 percent.

With that being said, however, I looked at the academic performance of nearby Campbell, once known as East Youngstown. I know Campbell has fewer students, but the socioeconomic factors, I believe, are close to what is in Youngstown. The tax base is next to nothing in that city, which, like Youngstown, took a tremendous financial and emotional hit when Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. closed its doors in 1977. Campbell also is an inner-city school district.

Yet, Campbell schools received a report-card rating of excellent, meeting 19 of 30 state academic standards. The district received a bump with the value-added measure, which reflects how much progress students have made since the prior-year report card. About 72 percent of those students are economically disadvantaged, Superintendent Thomas Robey told The Vindicator.

Campbell schools, Robey said, hired academic coaches to help children in math and literacy where students had demonstrated difficulty on previous years’ report cards.

For the sake of argument, let’s say Youngstown did likewise. The question then becomes why did the Campbell students do better than those in Youngstown?

Indeed, that should be one of the questions the Academic Distress Commission addresses.

If Youngstown wants to continue to move forward and improve its image, the school-system dilemma must be resolved. It will be difficult for the mayor or the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber to promote the city when its school system is so bad. High on the list of questions potential employers ask when seeking to relocate anywhere is how good are the area schools.

I am confident the school district will overcome this situation. There are too many dedicated professionals who diligently will be working to make sure Youngstown schools improve their academic status.

This will be no quick fix, however, so I implore the public to be patient. But school-district administrators, board members and teachers also must know the public does expect some measurable improvement when report cards come out next year.



1epicfail(217 comments)posted 6 years, 10 months ago

"She pointed out nearly 20 percent of the district’s 7,000 students are special-needs children, and the poverty rate is pushing 90 percent."

Don't forget the difficulty in retaining quality staff in the already troubled district.

Youngstown certainly has it's work cut out for it. I wish them the best of success as they pull themselves up.

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2DrHoo(2 comments)posted 6 years, 10 months ago

I have been researching and analyzing the performance of all Ohio school districts over the past ten-year period. The analysis shows both Youngstown and Campbell to have extremely high levels of poverty. However, YCS has a significantly higher level than does Campbell.

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3dreamcatcher52(140 comments)posted 6 years, 10 months ago

DrHoo, what is the ethnic and racial make-up of Campbell schools compared to Youngstown? Have you found that poverty/socioeconomic status of the family is the overriding factor? Aren't there some ethnic groups that, although poor, have a strong work ethic and value education? Isn't that a factor? Or is poverty the main cause of low academic performance? Can you point me to some of your (or others) research? I would be very interested to study this.

City_dweller, you have a point about the charter schools. Are there any in Campbell?

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4DoctorGonzo(728 comments)posted 6 years, 10 months ago

The best public school teacher in the state? According to whom?
She teaches at a school that scored ZERO out of 30.
I am not questioning her effort, skill, experience, or desire, but do not tell me the best public school teacher in the state teaches at East.
Your credibility as a writer is already low with your racist opinions and now you include purely subjective "facts" based on illogical reasoning.

Here's a tip, Youngstown city schools will never progress to a human level because the majority of parents do not care, the school board is obviously corrupt, and the non-poverty people cannot throw enough money at the issue to possibly fix these problems.

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5Education_Voter(1174 comments)posted 6 years, 10 months ago

According to the Ohio Department of Education, the Governor of the State of Ohio, and the Ohio Superintendent of Schools, Debra DeLisle,
Jennifer Walker is the Ohio Teacher of the Year. She is also a National Board Certtified Teacher.

"Reforms" initiated by the state legislature have failed to improve urban schools, and have in fact, caused harm.

The presence of more than a dozen charter schools, vouchers, and open enrollment have encouraged parents to move children from school to school. It is now not uncommon for every child in a 5th grade class to have attended 3 or more schools. In fact, a good number have attended 5 or more schools.

This kind of mobility has been shown to cause delays in achievement.

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6Westsider(269 comments)posted 6 years, 10 months ago

Just FYI - Youngstown has many of the same academic assistance programs as does Campbell. You are not asking the correct questions, Mr. Brown. I would challenge you to inquire as to the disciplinary support the teachers receive from the administration. We already know that Dr. Webb embraces the "hug a thug" philosophy. I would be very interested in Mr. Robey's disciplinary philosophy. If Campbell is scoring so well, to me that means there is greater academic support for in-school education regardless of the home environment.

In regard to the membership of the Board of Education in Youngstown, the problem is that there is no room for the non-politically connected - and that the only people interested are those who see it as a political stepping stone or are just plain personally ignorant and incapable of overseeing the change needed in the district, including finding a way to remove the Superintendent and replacing her with someone competent and able to effect strong positive change. It may take a little longer to accomplish those goals in the district, but Dr. Webb and her friends have had their chance.

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7Stan(9923 comments)posted 6 years, 10 months ago

Unless there is support at home for learing and to stay drug free don't expect schcolastic achievement .

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8hellsbells(116 comments)posted 6 years, 10 months ago

I disagree. There has already been welfare reform to address this. But you need to realize that you are living in an area that has more poverty and unemployment than anywhere else in Ohio.

Some people, the disabled, slow, disheveled, would have a hard time finding jobs in a busy ecomony. But here, now, it is unlikely.

Others found that even when they got educations, the promised advancement did not happen. It is not automatic for people without references, friends in business, and other connections.

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9toomuchapathy(14 comments)posted 6 years, 10 months ago

I do not think the public should be patient. This is a devastating issue and I agree with westsider about the school board, especially considering that at least two members send their children to private schools.

Educational reform has drastically transformed some of America's worst schools with help from outside organizations and supplemental support. The YCS work with none of these programs. For example, Teach for American and the New Teacher Project look to bring highly education college graduates into the worst performing school and these programs have had much success... however, these programs do not even exist in Ohio because there is an over abundance of teacher training institutions. Which begs the question, do we have too many bad teachers?

Also, it has been proven that smaller schools produce better performance and New York City in particular has parcel up huge high schools to create smaller with more personalized attentions. It makes sense, it is much harder to get lost in a high school of 200 than of 1200 students-- which is how many Chaney has. I understand money is an issue, but these large conglomerate high schools are doing no one any good.

Additionally, there are no after school programs in the YCS which would at least keep children off the street, funding an afterschool program is certainly more important than a new school building. So why do the YCS care more about contractors than children?

So many cities have turned their schools around, it seems like we have just given up

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10redvert(2240 comments)posted 6 years, 10 months ago

When nothing changes, nothing changes.

You cannot continue to do the same thing and expect the results to be different.

These are a couple old cliches but they describe most of the various problems in Youngstown. The attitudes in the valley are the same as they were 40 years ago but the valley is not the same as it was 40 years ago. Pittsburgh was part of the Rust Belt along with Youngstown, Cleveland and other cities in Ohio. Pittsburgh just hosted the world leaders. Even Cleveland though not perfect is leaps and bounds ahead of Youngstown.

"He helps he who helps himself"

For the benefit of my fellow hard working conservatives and the many hard working Liberals, I don't mean "he helps himself to your hard earned money"

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