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A day at Chaney

Published: Sun, January 30, 2011 @ 12:01 a.m.
  Chaney High School

The scene at Chaney High School on a recent day was of relative calm.

The scene at Chaney High School on a recent day was of relative calm.

For the past few months, there have been reports of fighting and other problems at Chaney High School on the city’s West Side. The Vindicator spent a day last week at the school to see what happens inside the building during a regular school day, which consists of eight class periods. The schedule:

7:30 a.m. Doors open with breakfast provided in the school cafeteria. Students arrive by school or Western Reserve Transit Authority buses or by their own transportation.

8 a.m. The bell rings for the day’s first class.

10:50 a.m. to 1:05 p.m., three 45-minute lunch periods.

3 p.m. Dismissal. Students leave the school and board buses or drive home.




For all the stories of students behaving badly at Chaney High School, the scene on a day last week was of relative calm.

Principal Erik Thorson and deans Edna Douglas and James Vivo spent the morning ushering straggling students to their respective classrooms before the bell.

All three officials carried a radio, allowing them to communicate throughout the school.

Doors open at 7:30 a.m. as students eat a school-provided breakfast. The first class begins at 8.

“People forget: This isn’t a neighborhood school anymore,” Thorson said. “We have kids that are bused here from 7 miles away.”

Other kids take Western Reserve Transit Authority buses to school. Many older ones drive.

Thorson visits different classrooms, urging students in a study hall to use the time to prepare for the Ohio Graduation Test.

“I’m encouraging the teachers to have an OGT question of the day,” he said.

In Christopher Patrone’s U.S. History class, the question dealt with the New Deal.

A three-inch-thick binder that reads “Chaney Databook” rests on Thorson’s desk. Inside lists the school’s state report card information for the last few years as well as goals for improvement.

“It’s my bible,” Thorson said. “I don’t go anywhere without it. Look at all the notes — I take it everywhere with me.”

About 820 are enrolled at the West Side high school although some juniors and seniors attend Choffin Career and Technical Center part of the day.

Attendance averages about 89 percent with the state setting the benchmark at 93 percent.

Thorson is new to the district, coming from Cleveland schools. He started in late September, nearly a month after the beginning of the school year.

Students moved between classes without confrontation. Some approached Thorson with problems: they need to recover credits in order to graduate, a teacher isn’t enforcing the dress code consistently, they need a pass to class.

The only time of chaos was during a morning language-arts test for ninth graders that’s required by the state. It took about 15 minutes for students to get seated, settle down and listen before Thorson and ninth-grade teachers could distribute pencils, test books and test sheets.

More confusion ensued when about 30 students didn’t have test sheets with their names printed on them. Because the students’ names are required for the data to be input, those students have to take the test another day.

While most of the day progressed smoothly, a city police report shows that a fight broke out after school hours during basketball practice. One boy went to the emergency room with a broken jaw.

Thorson acknowledged that the previous day saw a couple fights in the cafeteria. When there are fights, girls are usually the ones fighting and it’s usually about something that started outside of school on a social network such as Facebook.

The school has three Youngstown police officers contracted by the district, assigned to Chaney through the day — two inside and one outside.

One of those officers said he sees problems with students using profanity and being disrespectful and sometimes threatening school personnel and the officers.

Another officer, though, says a day when a fight breaks out is the exception, not the rule. A day without incident is the norm.

Students agreed.

There are some problems, said senior Adam Nieves, 18, but most students are there to get an education.

“I came back for a fifth year after dropping out for a year and a half and working at a dead-end job,” Nieves said.

He now understands that a high school diploma is crucial to secure a job.

But too often, students who are disruptive interrupt learning for the whole class, he said. Teaching stops while the teacher deals with that student.

“They put rules before education,” said senior Albert Jones, 18. “They should put education first.”

Senior Christina Thacker, 18, gets frustrated with the perception that there’s nothing good happening at the school.

“Because something comes from Chaney doesn’t mean that it’s bad, doesn’t mean that it’s sloppy,” she said. “Most of us are here to get an education.”

Tashyra Clark, also 18 and a senior, said academics suffers because some classes lack sufficient textbooks. She listed science, English and business classes as examples.

In some of those classes there’s not enough books for students to take them home. In others, books are so scarce that students have to share them.

Another problem, the students said, is enforcement of the dress code.

At the beginning of the school year, polo shirts with insignia were permitted as long as the insignia was no larger than a quarter, Tashyra said.

Now, students can’t wear any insignia, she said.

“After I spent $100 on school clothes, I had to go buy new shirts,” Tashyra said.

Lunch consists of three 45-minute periods with a dean assigned to each session.

Thorson and Evelyn Beal, a teacher on special assignment who works with special education, sit at the front of the cafeteria, checking off student names as they enter. It’s to ensure students at lunch are supposed to be there.

Boys sit on one side of the cafeteria with girls on the other. Thorson instituted that change after seeing too much hugging, too many students sitting on each other’s laps and other behavior he deemed inappropriate for school.

For the day’s third lunch period, Thorson takes boys who are done eating into the gym to play basketball. He keeps score.

“They need an outlet,” he said.

The boys play hard, sweat dripping down their temples as they return to class.

Kevin Douglas, the school’s linkage coordinator, works in a program called Closing the Achievement Gap, providing ninth-graders with support so they move up to 10th grade.

“If they fail ninth grade, there’s a 60 percent chance of them not graduating,” Douglas said.

He’s working with about 60 freshmen so far this year, sometimes visiting their homes, setting them up with tutors or pointing them to available services.

Students are referred to him if they’re over-age for the grade, have two F’s in core subjects, have been suspended for more than 10 days or if their attendance is below average. Girls may also be referred to Douglas if they’re at risk of pregnancy or violence.

Tina Smith has been with the district for 22 years and teaches ninth grade.

The biggest challenge she sees is reaching students, “explaining to the kids the value of education and how important it is.”

Kids are more apt to quit today than when she started teaching.

“They don’t see the value of education as far as it being the ticket to a better life,” Smith said.

How does she combat that?

“I never let up,” Smith said. “I don’t give up, and I’m a pain. As I am in September, I am in June.”

She hopes things will improve. Connie Hathorn, who became superintendent this month, has been listening to teachers, she said.

She also agrees with Thorson’s decision to name 35-year teacher Ron Burdis to work on special assignment as a discipline and attendance officer.

That started two weeks ago.

“I can’t think of anyone who would be better,” Smith said. “He’s a disciplinarian, he’s a humanitarian, and he’s an advocate for Chaney High School.”

At the beginning of the day, Burdis sweeps the halls, looking for anyone who’s not in class. Those he finds are sent to in-school suspension.

In-school suspension is new to the school, too.

A student in ISS must spend that class period completing a punitive writing assignment.

For one who’s tardy for the first time, for example, the assignment would be about being accountable for your actions.

“There’s no talking, no interaction,” Burdis said. “It sends a pretty good message.”

The second time, ISS lasts for two periods with three periods for a third time.

The fourth time results in an out-of-school suspension and a call to the parent. The student can’t return to school unless accompanied by a parent.

Students can be sent to ISS for other reasons, and more severe offenses can net a child a place in the room the entire school day.

Richard Scarsella, an intervention specialist, said the discipline problems at Chaney are typical of any high school.

“You can see the hallways are quiet,” he said. “This is a normal day.”


1timOthy(802 comments)posted 4 years, 10 months ago

I'm tired of paying for something that should be taught at home ! Put them in a alternative school if they are acting up !!

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2Lifes2Short(3879 comments)posted 4 years, 10 months ago

"Richard Scarsella, an intervention specialist, said the discipline problems at Chaney are typical of any high school. "

Didn't Hathorn just recently say this:

"Superintendent Hathorn hosted the meetings last week in response to what he termed “a deteriorating teaching and learning environment that has been compromised by an increase in fights, verbal and written threats, gang influence, bullying connected to past acts of school violence, and trespassing on school property to purposely attack another student.”


And the famous "waiver day" because of the problems.

"Recent fights, threats, bullying and gang influence at the school led Connie Hathorn, who will take over as school superintendent Jan. 1, to request the waiver day.“What’s been happening is unacceptable,” he said."


Typical huh?

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3Freeatlast(1991 comments)posted 4 years, 10 months ago

Spend a day at BHS when they do not know you are there all most the same thing . just more money

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4UnionForever(1470 comments)posted 4 years, 10 months ago

I remember the middle class west side only Chaney of the 1960's and 1970's. The worst things that happened is the kids would go down the street for a smoke. Unfortunately, this is not the Chaney of today. There needs to be an alternative high school for these hoodlums who disrupt classes, cause fights, are there only for the free breakfast & lunch, and do not want to learn i n Youngstown. When will Ytown schools do the right thing and open one?

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5Education_Voter(1014 comments)posted 4 years, 10 months ago

I also spent a large part of the day at Chaney, when my younger students were there for an activity. We ate lunch there as well.
I can verify that it was a normal school day. The students in the lunch we attended were appropriate, the halls were quiet, the high school students we were there to see were good models.

I do, however, believe that the teachers deal with problems. We did see a girl who was pregnant. But as for constant chaos, no.

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6Education_Voter(1014 comments)posted 4 years, 10 months ago

I remember those days too, but I also remember fights with chains at McDonalds and problems with vandalism that caused school not to open.

In fact, even before our time, the opening day for Chaney in the fifties had to be delayed because the school had been broken into and so vandalized that it needed to be cleaned.

Yet, as we both know, professionals and leaders came out of that school. (They ought to have a professional hall of fame like the awesome sports hall of fame that they have by the new gym.)

No one for a minute thought that all of the students were "bad" because some misbehaved.

I have to give a special kudo to a current student named Kaitlyn Cook because she was so good in the play we saw, and then later I read in the Vindicator about her other accomplishments. (see link)

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7mfdaniels(1 comment)posted 4 years, 10 months ago

The alumni of Chaney High School is always willing to help where needed. Regardless of the district changes in the recent past, there will always be Cowboy pride. Support Dr. Hathorn in his quest to improve the CHS environment.

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8Left2right4(35 comments)posted 4 years, 10 months ago

The Vindy.com stated, "Tashyra Clark, also 18 and a senior, said academics suffers because some classes lack sufficient textbooks. She listed science, English and business classes as examples." In response, I assert that two of my daughters graduated from Chaney High School in 2008 and 2009, and they both received college scholarships. Yes, they worked for them. One scholarship was to the United States Air Force Academy and was worth over $380,000.00. The other scholarship was a complete scholarship to Kent State University. Tell Tashyra Clark that academics doesn't suffer because some classes lack sufficient textbooks, it's attitude that causes academics to suffer. Change your mind set and you can succeed. Work harder and stop blaming the schools.

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9Education_Voter(1014 comments)posted 4 years, 10 months ago


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10Stan(9923 comments)posted 4 years, 10 months ago

"While most of the day progressed smoothly, a city police report shows that a fight broke out after school hours during basketball practice. One boy went to the emergency room with a broken jaw. "


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11Btjo0322(3 comments)posted 4 years, 10 months ago

I am a senior at Chaney High school and I know just about everyone mentioned in the article except that Nieves person. I would like to speak for all the hardworking students at Chaney High School enrolled in all Honors and AP curriculums including myself when I say there are amazing things happening at Chaney High. As stated above our class valedictorian and my good friend Kaitlyn Cook is doing awesome things around the school and has a bright future ahead that will not only make Chaney proud, but the whole city of Youngstown as well. Chaney Drama is having a wonderful renaissance, putting on at least 3 productions or showcases every year for the past 3 years thanks to Mrs. Angela Dooley. Physics teacher Tim Bakos has used grants to purchase dozens of laptops and various other technologies for use with educational labs. Mr. Bakos is also the coach of both Chaney Academic Challenge/Quiz Bowl and the Baseball Team. Our Academics Challenge team was featured on MYTV with a victory over East and a close game to Poland (Until after the half) and our Quiz Bowl varsity team has victories over Campbell High School and Youngstown Early College. Our Physics class has adopted Lake Glacier and will be participating in various activities to help decrease pollution and bacteria spread around the lake and will be performing experiments on the water for data that will be used by the city and state. The new principle Dr. Thorson is just what Chaney needs to get it together. I am tired of dealing with disrespectful classmates and he may not be able to do much with the senior class, but I think he will be able to shape the underclassmen into respectful young adults with time. Although I do not fully agree with the sudden dress code change, I guess you do sometimes have to go a little overboard to get it into peoples heads. I believe if that reporter had followed me and my friends around he would have had a much more enlightening experience. I know Chaney gets a lot of bad rep in the news, but people should not lose faith in the minority based on the actions of the majority. There are smart, talented, hardworking people at Chaney trying to make the best of our education and we are doing a wonderful job.

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12Btjo0322(3 comments)posted 4 years, 10 months ago

I'm sorry joes but that is a very sad and sadistic view of this issue, and I would very well appreciate is if you would not refer to my friends and colleagues as "dogs" or "animals". However because I am a respectful person I will not allow your comment to have the privilege of being anywhere near the truth. Why don't you come down to Chaney meet me and my friends the "animals" and see if you have the same view. If so, I feel sorry, but hopefully you can have a change of heart.

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13southsidedave(5169 comments)posted 4 years, 10 months ago

Is this story newsworthy?

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14jmoney(6 comments)posted 4 years, 10 months ago

As far as the fight during basketball practice, the story is so far from the truth! The two boy's were freshman boy's who USED to be on the team. Just because they USED to be on the team doesn't mean the fight occured during basketball practice. There was no practice going on at the time for the freashman basketball team! I think the last thing the coach would allow is for another player to knock the teeth out of another player!! And one more thing, it's Evelyn "Veal", not "Beal." Another fine performance at the Vindy!! And "NO" southsidedave, this story is really not that newsworthy but some people must be running out of stories!

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