Residents clear about education needs

By Denise Dick


Residents of the city are clear about what needs to happen to improve the schools.

The next step is devising a plan to get there.

More than 115 people attended an education town-hall meeting Monday at Stambaugh Auditorium where the representatives of the Harwood Institute for Public Innovation of Bethesda, Md., discussed the findings of a community-engagement effort launched last February.

The effort, funded by the Raymond John Wean Foundation and the Youngstown Foundation, included 175 one-on-one interviews, 25 community conversations across eight city neighborhoods and 37 interviews with education, faith, business, media, neighborhood and nonprofit leaders.

“You have very clear aspirations for this community, and they cut across all areas of the city,” said Richard Harwood of the institute.

Those include a belief that all children should be treated with respect and dignity and are worthy of learning, a need for teachers who not only know their subject area but who treat children with compassion, and the need for a different relationship with the schools.

People also talked about a need to celebrate the community’s successes, he said.

“What makes it [the city] special is the clarity,” Harwood said.

Those who attended Monday’s meeting were asked to rate the schools and community on one of three topics: a more open relationship between schools and communities, celebrating successes and high expectations for students and their ability to achieve, and whether adults take personal responsibility for their actions and set the example for their children.

Most at the meeting rated the community’s progress on the topics as either “starting to improve” or “lip service.”

“I heard what you said, and I’m going to work on it,” Superintendent Connie Hathorn told the crowd.

He acknowledged that teachers, employees and the community at large have to have a change of heart regarding what they believe students can accomplish.

“These kids can achieve,” Hathorn said.

Harwood plans to meet with Hathorn to review the institute’s findings as well as deliver a report to the schools Academic Distress Commission at its Aug. 16 meeting.

Community engagement was one of the elements of the commission’s Academic Recovery Plan for the school district. The five-member commission, appointed by the state, was established in 2010 after the district earned an academic emergency designation, the lowest rank, on the state report card and failed to make adequate yearly progress for four or more consecutive years.

Last year, the district moved up one rating to academic watch on the report card.

The commission has broad authority regarding district operations that pertain to academics.

In order for the commission to dissolve and for the district to return to local control, the district must earn at least a continuous improvement report card designation for two consecutive years.

Continuous improvement is one step above academic watch.

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