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Don’t Y’town residents realize clock’s ticking on city schools?



Published: Thu, August 23, 2012 @ 12:00 a.m.

There’s a lot to chew on in the report by the Harwood Institute For Public Innovation on the community’s attitude toward the Youngstown City School District. But when residents say they want “small demonstrations of progress that indicate things are moving in the right direction,” we wonder if they have been paying attention to Ohio Department of Education officials and others who have made it clear that time is not on the side of the academically challenged urban system.

From former state superintendent of Public Instruction Stan Heffner to the chairwoman of the state Academic Distress Commission, Adrienne O’Neill, to even Gov. John Kasich, the message has been consistent and clear: Youngstown must improve academically or drastic measures will be taken by the state to ensure that city children have the same opportunities to succeed in the classroom as those in the suburban districts.

Indeed, before he resigned his position as superintendent in the aftermath of a searing state inspector general’s report, Heffner made it known that the state expected to see Youngstown climb from academic watch to continuous improvement in the 2013 state proficiency tests. The district was placed in academic emergency in 2009 and moved up to academic watch last year. The emergency resulted in the appointment of the commission.

The panel, with input from schools Superintendent Connie Hathorn, has developed a plan to improve the test scores and thereby secure a higher rating. This year’s report card, which will be released early next month, will not apply to the state’s goal because the recovery plan was only recently adopted. It will be a different story next year.

Thus, when residents in the survey conducted by the Harwood Institute — it was part of the community-engagement requirement of the commission’s academic recovery plan for the schools — talk about wanting a “down-payment,” we wonder if they aren’t ignoring reality.

Here’s what Harwood wrote: “People are not looking for, and will not trust quick fixes, grand plans or silver bullets. They want a down-payment, small demonstrations of progress that indicate things are moving in the right direction.”

But consider what academic distress commission Chairwoman O’Neill told a recent meeting of the Alliance for Congressional Transformation Influencing our Neighborhoods (ACTION) about the state’s expectations:

“I don’t think the patience level in Columbus is a forever thing. In the next year, something really dramatic has to happen.”

Interest

The Harwood report does reveal a high level of interest from residents to ensure the success of the city schools and to increase the number of students bound for college.

“People believe that both the schools and community must attend to the key underlying conditions — trust, relationships, and confidence in people to act together — if progress is to be made on achieving higher expectations and achievement,” the report states.

The encouraging finding in Harwood’s survey of the residents is the view that “Education is a community responsibility and not just the school district’s.”

Members of the board of education should take note of a key finding: People don’t trust the elected officials. Superintendent Hathorn, on the other hand, is trusted.

In the end, however, it all comes down to the clock. If the district shows academic progress next year, there will be opportunities for community involvement. But, if the status quo prevails, there’s no telling what the state will do.


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