Youngstown looks for ways to keep kids in the district




Almost as many city school students have left the district in recent years as remain.

A breakdown of Youngs-town students attending charter or community schools or leaving the district through open enrollment and vouchers since 2003 totals 5,050 as of this year. District enrollment is 6,405 students.

That’s part of the reason that Connie Hathorn, who took over as superintendent at the beginning of this year, devised a restructuring plan for the schools beginning next school year.

“We need to retain the students we have, and get the students who have left to come back,” he said. “First, we have to meet the needs of the students we have here.”

Hathorn said the number leaving Youngstown is high for a district of its size. He summed up his belief about the reason for the departures bluntly: “Lack of success.”

“Parents are not going to pull their kids out of a good system,” Hathorn said.

His plan will turn Chaney High School into a Science, Technology, Engineering and Math and visual and performing arts school where students will have to audition or apply for admittance. East High will offer students study paths including education, law and business.

Middle schools will be divided into one eighth-and-ninth-grade academy and two sixth-and-seventh-grade academies.

With 3,198 city school students attending charter and community schools this year, that comprises the biggest cumulative chunk of those leaving. The highest number of those, 621, have left Chaney, although each district school has seen the exodus — for examples, 339 from Martin Luther King Elementary and 327 from Williamson Elementary.

Open enrollment caused the next highest number of departures at 1,024 students. The Youngstown district doesn’t keep records of what city schools those students departed from, but this year, Austintown was the district receiving the highest number of city school students at 311. Lowellville was second with 151 city school kids.

For vouchers, the program that allows students in a failing school to attend a private institution, the district lost 828 students since 2006.

The problem may grow because Gov. John Kasich’s proposed budget would double the number of vouchers and eliminate the cap on the number of charter and community schools. Because state money follows the child, the district also loses funding in addition to the enrollment.

Lock P. Beachum Sr., school board president, said that for the past several years, the district has lost between 300 and 400 students to open enrollment or parochial schools, usually between seventh and eighth grades.

“Parents keep them in city schools through elementary school, and then they start transferring out in eighth grade,” he said. “A lot are going to the parochial schools, to Austintown. ... They’re not going to East, and for the last four, five years, they didn’t feel comfortable going to Chaney.”

The only way to stem that tide is to improve academic offerings, he said, adding that he hopes the restructuring plan accomplishes that.

“We have to have the kind of programs that are going to attract them,” Beachum said.

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