By DENISE DICK
and ELISE Franco
The city school district remains the worst in the state, and the state superintendent says if improvement isn’t made, she’ll take over to do what needs to be done.
“We’re not going to continue to allow Youngstown to languish academically,” Deborah Delisle, state superintendent of public instruction said Friday. “We’re going to take steps to ensure they improve and succeed.”
State report card data for 2009-10 released by the Ohio Department of Education show Youngstown remains in academic emergency, the only district in the state with the lowest designation.
“Since this designation [last year], an academic distress commission has adopted an Academic Recovery Plan and is working with the district to implement this plan in the upcoming school year,” Delisle said.
An overall goal of the $3.2 million plan is to have the district designated no lower than continuous improvement by 2015. It includes steps aimed at moving the district out of the bottom.
While Delisle said there are no guarantees, the recovery plan includes a benchmarking system and, on a quarterly basis, she will review the district’s progress.
If it doesn’t improve, De-lisle said she will be “entering the school district and taking over to do what needs to be done.”
Some of the benchmarks include increasing the graduation rate by 2 percent. It also calls for reducing the percentage of students not proficient in math and reading in each subgroup by 10 percent as measured by the Ohio Achievement Assessments and the Ohio Graduation tests. Subgroups include all students, students with disabilities, economically disadvantaged students and students with limited English proficiency.
Anthony Catale, city school board president, said the academic-emergency designation is unacceptable and disappointing. “Our students deserve better and the city of Youngstown deserves better,” he said.
The district must ensure the resources are in place to fully implement the academic recovery plan. Everyone involved — the school board, academic distress commission, fiscal oversight commission, teachers and staff — must work collectively to improve the district, Catale said.
While the city schools are at the bottom, six Mahoning Valley districts — Columbiana, Poland, Western Reserve, Bloomfield-Mespo, Champion and Maplewood — rated excellent with distinction, the highest designation. It’s the second year that Champion earned the rating and the first for the others, all of which were designated excellent last year.
In Mahoning County, only one other district saw improvement. Austintown went from effective last year to excellent this year.
Both Canfield and Springfield had earned excellent with distinction last year and slipped to excellent this year.
Springfield Superintendent Debra Mettee said though the district wasn’t able to earn excellent with distinction two years in a row, she’s proud of teachers and students for the improvements that were made.
“This year we got all 26 of our indicators, and last year we had 22,” she said. “We have our kids working hard and getting their year’s growth. I think that’s hard for any district to get that extra distinction two years in a row.”
Mettee said some extra attention should be focused on fifth grade math and reading and overall performance at the high school.
There were some bright spots on Youngstown’s report card.
“Our performance index score increased,” said John T. Allen, ombudsman for the city schools. That score, which rewards the achievement of every student, not just those who score proficient of higher, increased from 70.2 last year to 72.4 on the latest report card.
The district also saw gains in the performance of fifth through eighth grade students, Allen said, which is where the district focused its efforts based on last year’s report card. But performance fell in third and fourth grades.
The district would have received an academic watch designation, one step above academic emergency, if not for the value-added measure, Allen said. It’s the same measure that knocked Youngstown from watch to emergency last year.
Value added measures how much progress students have made since the prior year. It’s calculated for districts and schools with grades four through eight in reading and math.
For the second year, the Youngstown Early College earned an excellent designation. Paul C. Bunn and William Holmes McGuffey Elementary schools also saw improvement, both moving from academic watch last year to continuous improvement on the latest report card.
Volney Rogers Middle School also improved from academic emergency to academic watch.
Individual city schools that saw decreases were Harding Elementary which dropped from continuous improvement to academic emergency; and Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary which fell from continuous improvement to academic watch.
“With the state plan — the academic recovery plan — and a good, five-year [financial] forecast, with all of those things, it’s the perfect time for a new superintendent to come in,” Allen said. Wendy Webb, superintendent since 2004, is retiring at the end of the year.
In Trumbull County, Warren ranked one rung above Youngstown, at academic watch, for the second year. Brookfield improved from continuous improvement to effective; Liberty, Lordstown and Mathews all increased from effective to excellent; and McDonald fell from effective to continuous improvement.
Liberty Superintendent Stanley Watson said the district is proud of its improvement but it doesn’t mean there’s no more work to do, to not lose ground and to continue to move forward.
“We need to continue to focus on individual learners and make sure we look at each student individually,” he said.
Students learn differently and instruction must be tailored to individual students. There’s a lot of work to that, Watson said, including getting information about students to their teachers.
“A lot of the focus of that is making sure we’re meeting and talking to students to make sure we’re reaching every one of them,” he said.
School principals work as leaders to accomplish that goal.
“The engine of this is our middle school and Peggy Dolwick is the principal [at W.S. Guy Middle School],’ Watson said. “Our middle school kids improved in every single area.”
After being excellent with distinction two years in a row, Howland dropped back to excellent this year.
Superintendent John Sheets said the report card data will be reviewed and teachers will address students’ needs to try and achieve excellent with distinction again next year.
“We have to review the data for student growth in one year’s time for reading and math,” he said. “We remain an excellent school system, and we’re going to continue to take steps to move up again in the future.”
Sheets said after looking over preliminary report card results, he was aware of the district’s rating.
“We knew [math and reading] was an area where we needed to look at the growth data that kicks you up,” he said.
In Columbiana County, East Palestine and Salem’s designations increased from effective last year to excellent this year. Lisbon improved from continuous improvement to effective.
Donald Mook, superintendent of Columbiana Exempted Village Schools, credits the work of both teachers and students in achieving the high marks. He said the district focuses on reading and math across the board, at all grade levels.
“Our students spend more time in reading and math than in any other area,” he said.
The district also has frameworks in place to make sure teachers are teaching to the standards.
“That’s a real credit to our teaching staff,” Mook said.
The district had its opening day with teaching staff and the report card results were a source of pride among those attending.