Strategic plan to put end to apathy

By Harold Gwin

People, businesses and community groups will be asked to become mentors and tutors.

YOUNGSTOWN — The superintendent of the city school district believes that “killing apathy” is the key to turning the district around academically.

The community has been asleep for two decades but is now waking up to the realization that everyone must get involved in the educational process, Wendy Webb said.

“Change will happen only when we all participate,” she said, as she welcomed about 60 parents and grandparents to Choffin Career & Technical Center on Monday morning to a presentation on the district’s proposed five-year academic strategic plan.

Raising student proficiency in reading and math, increasing the graduation rate, lowering the number of disciplinary referrals and improving communication with students, staff and the community are the key points of that plan, and parents were invited to make any suggestions they felt appropriate to improve the plan, Webb said.

Youngstown nearly made a rating of continuous improvement on its annual state local report card before the bottom fell out of district finances, resulting in the focus suddenly shifting to cutting spending, she said.

But the district is now ready for this academic challenge, she said, urging parents to leave the meeting with expectations of student success.

“Framing the Future: Thinking and Learning Our Way To the Top” is the name given the ambitious plan.

The overriding aim is that, by 2015, every Youngstown city school student will achieve a year or more of academic growth in reading and math every year, said Penny Senyak of ON TASC, the consulting company assisting the district with creating the plan.

The schools can’t do it alone, she said.

“We need help. This is a massive undertaking,” she said.

Those attending the session broke up into four groups to focus on the plan’s individual goals.

Some spoke about the need for more control of discipline, more staff training and the need to find ways to get children interested in reading and math.

Some also took teachers and administrators to task, saying they don’t always make parents feel welcome and respected in the schools, and others addressed the need for better communication with community groups in general.

“I think it was very good,” said Rose Wilkins, an East Side resident who has a granddaughter in the city schools.

She said her main concern was truancy in her neighborhood, pointing out that she sees school children hanging out on the street corners when they should be in class.

Arnett Barnes, who lives on the South Side, said he came to the meeting as a parent and concerned citizen to find out the difficulties the schools are facing and to offer to do his part to work with them.

The meeting was worthwhile, he said.

“I think it should be done more often,” suggested Beatrice Dixon, an East Sider with a niece at Youngstown Early College.

Her focus was on improving reading and what can be done to get more parents involved in what their children are doing in school, she said.

Webb said the district will take the suggestions garnered from this meeting and a second held Monday night at Chaney High School and complete the plan, presenting it to the school board for acceptance.

Another community meeting will then be scheduled to invite the public, including businesses and community groups, to sign up as tutors and mentors to become directly involved in the education process.

Youngstown, which is rated by the state as being in academic emergency, has a state Academic Distress Commission beginning work next week to help the district recover academically. That commission has indicated it’s anxious to see Youngstown’s strategic plan, she said.

The commission has 120 days from March 1 to draft its own recovery plan for Youngstown and present it to the state superintendent of public instruction.

The city school district has proposed an ambitious plan designed to improve academics, focusing not only on reading and math but on attendance, discipline and communication as well. The plan’s four goals and some of the action steps designed to achieve them are:

  1. By 2012, the district will annually increase the percentage of K-12 students achieving proficiency in reading by reducing the number of students rated as basic and limited in reading by 12 percent. Youngstown’s nonproficiency level ranged from 68 percent in the fifth grade to 16 percent in the 11th grade on the 2008-09 state report card.

The district will make sure curriculum maps and pacing guides are used consistently in all grade levels.

Teachers will be trained to use those maps and guides separately or with textbooks.

The district will check to see the maps and guides are being used and devise short-cycle testing to determine success.

  1. By 2012, the district will annually increase the percentage of K-12 students achieving proficiency in math by reducing the number of students rated as basic and limited by 12 percent. Youngstown’s nonproficiency level ranged from 77 percent in the eighth grade to 32 percent in the 11th grade on the state report card.

  2. By 2012, the district will implement a process that meets the cognitive, social and emotional needs of all students as measured by a 2 percent annual increase in attendance and a 10 percent annual decrease in disciplinary referrals.

Disciplinary referrals are averaging about 2,000 per year.

Attendance now stands at 92.5 percent with 93 percent as the state-mandated goal. It was 91.8 percent on the 2008-09 report card.

The district, over the next three years, will implement a Truancy Mediation Program starting in the elementary grades.

The district will rejuvenate its Capturing Kids Hearts strategies to encourage students to come to school and perform academically.

The district will provide ongoing interventions for students at risk of not graduating.

  1. By 2015, the district will improve the perception of the school district as measured by 5 percent annual increases on student, staff, parent and community surveys and/or focus groups.

The district will crate a new communication plan to help parents and the community become more aware of what’s going on in the schools.

The district will create a more effective system for moving staff into new positions to provide the most effective personnel possible in each job.

Source: Youngstown city schools

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