By Denise Dick
A community group plans to target the city school district’s 1,500 lowest-performing students, asking their parents to withdraw them from the schools.
Jimma McWilson of the Community High Commission declined to specify how those students would be targeted, or during what time frame.
The commission, which McWilson says includes about 50 members plus several affiliated groups, called a news conference Monday at the East Side branch of the Public Library of Youngstown and Mahoning County.
Last month, the commission requested two meetings with the school board.
Board President Lock P. Beachum Sr. wrote in a letter to McWilson earlier this month that Superintendent Connie Hathorn can arrange meetings between district personnel charged with academic success and the commission.
But McWilson said the power, control and money rest with the school board.
The school board, which is expected to go to voters this year asking for a levy renewal, is responsible for poor academic performance in the city schools, particularly by black students, the commission maintains.
The commission began working with the district in 2008, before the last time the levy appeared on the ballot. The district hasn’t made much progress since then in terms of academics, the commission contends.
In Youngstown schools, black students are 78 percent below proficiency in science, 63 percent below proficiency in social studies, 59 percent below in math and 47 percent below in reading; and the school district (67 percent African descent) has been in academic emergency or academic watch for the last 10 years, McWilson said in a letter to Beachum.
This has happened despite 20th-century constitutional amendments and a U.S. Supreme Court decision pertaining to equal rights and education; and despite “four black city council members, five black school board members and a black city superintendent of Youngstown City Schools,” the letter states.
Beachum said the board doesn’t plan to meet with the group although the option of a meeting with district personnel proposed in his March 2 letter still stands.
“He has his own agenda,” he said. “He wants to start a school. We live in a democracy, and if he feels he has to do that, go ahead and do it. We will continue to work with the superintendent and the academic commission.”
The district already has made progress, moving from academic emergency to academic watch on the most recent state report card, Beachum said. The district is hopeful that this year’s report card will see a continuous improvement designation, he said.
“We’re going to continue to give the superintendent every opportunity he needs,” Beachum said. “We’re not going to stand by and adhere to threats.”
McWilson points out that the progress made by the district is attributable to improved attendance and writing scores. Students still scored below proficiency in the other subject areas. If the district makes such slight improvements each year, it will take 14 years to get to a report card designation of excellent, he said.
McWilson said he’s not interested in starting a charter school.
“But I will tell you that we’re prepared to do all of the above,” he said.