Disciplinary problems hurt Youngstown schools revival

Some parents in the Youngstown City School District are upset that Superintendent Connie Hathorn did not involve all factions of the community in the early stages of what is without a doubt one of the most aggressive plans to save the system. The parents should be more upset with the fact that thuggish behavior on the part of students simply feeds the perception that the schools aren’t safe.

Indeed, Dr. Hathorn, who took over as superintendent on Jan. 1, has a message for parents and the community at large: Alert us when there’s something brewing among groups of kids so the schools can be better prepared with additional security.

One of the main reasons Youngstown is losing students to surrounding districts or charter schools is the perceived lack of safety. Parents who want their children to receive a quality education believe that what occurs in the classroom in terms discipline has a lot to do with the learning process.

Youngstown district’s reputation for student misbehavior was unfortunately reaffirmed recently when five Chaney High Schools students, including two 18-year-olds, were charged with rioting after they were involved in two fights in the building, according to police. They received 10-day school suspensions and could be expelled. When teachers, staff and the two police officers who work security inside the school were counted, 15 people were involved in the altercation. That’s not what the system needs — just as the superintendent and the school board are trying to sell the reorganization plan not only to district residents, but to parents in the suburbs who may be interested in what has been put in place.

“We’ve got to do something different,” the superintendent told parents during meetings with them to explain what he hopes will be accomplished. “Doing something wrong is better than doing nothing at all.”

Academic, fiscal emergencies

Dr. Hathorn is right in that regard, given that Youngstown has had the displeasure of being the only district in the state to be under both, fiscal and academic emergencies.

The fiscal emergency designation, in place since 2006, was recently lifted by Ohio Auditor Dave Yost, but the system is still under the direction of the state with regard to academics. That’s because its state proficiency test scores have failed to emerge from the cellar.

The superintendent, with the support of the state-mandated academic distress commission and the school board, has put in place a plan that’s so different from what residents are used to that push back is to be expected. But, there is a high probability for success if all the stakeholders do their part. Parents and guardians have the most important role because if students aren’t willing to learn, the district won’t succeed.

To be sure, with Chaney and East high schools providing different opportunities, there could be the view that one is better than the other. But Hathorn has stressed that both schools will provide quality education, only under different circumstances.

Incidents of student misbehavior, such as what occurred at Chaney, must not be allowed to persist. Discipline must be enforced to the fullest extent of district rules and state law.

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