Youngstown schools must improve, leader says

By Denise Dick


The city schools must make significant progress this school year, according to the chairwoman of the Academic Distress Commission.

“I don’t think the patience level in Columbus is a forever thing,” Adrienne O’Neill told more than 100 people Thursday at the Alliance for Congregational Transformation Influencing Our Neighborhoods meeting at Elizabeth Missionary Baptist Church. “In the next year, something really dramatic has to happen.”

The meeting’s topic was “Will September Be the End of Public Education?”

One member of the audience asked whether there’s a plan by the state to privatize the city’s public schools.

“I know of no such plan,” O’Neill said. “I’m not sure if there were such a plan, that the governor would call me about it.”

Throughout the evening, the chairwoman kept repeating that the way to improve student achievement is to provide on-grade and above-grade-level instruction.

“Those who believe you can remediate students to success are wrong,” she said.

That’s what already happens at Youngstown Early College, she said, and that school is the only one in the district to achieve an excellent rating.

“From the time they walk in the door, they’re reading college textbooks,” O’Neill said.

That includes some who come into the school reading well below grade level, she said.

“The teachers are instructing them at the college level,” the chairwoman said.

Marcia Haire-Ellis, a school board member, said the district has provided professional development for principals regarding what to look for in determining if a teacher is delivering quality instruction and how to provide effective feedback to those teachers.

If school personnel aren’t able to do the job, their contracts won’t be renewed or they’ll be terminated, she said.

“We are serious,” Haire-Ellis said.

The Rev. Lewis Macklin of Holy Trinity Baptist Church, moderator of Thursday’s meeting, asked O’Neill what she believes will happen if the district doesn’t improve.

She said that the person who drafted the law establishing academic distress commissions in Ohio, who now works in Massachusetts, recently directed that an underperforming school’s superintendent be replaced, the board dissolved and a special master put in place to handle school operations.

When asked what the community can do to help, O’Neill talked about the need for high expectations for students.

“Help the district set the bar as high as it can possibly be,” she said.

Several people in the audience held up signs showing their support for public education in the city.

The Rev. Dr. Macklin said the time for action by the community is yesterday.

“Every day that goes by is a day lost,” he said. “Our children cannot afford another day lost.”

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