New buildings, programs await Valley students for 2013-14

By Denise Dick

New buildings and new programs will greet Mahoning Valley school students as they return to the classroom over the next few weeks.

For example, new kindergarten- through second-grade and third- through fifth-grade buildings wired for the latest technology await Austintown students.

In Youngstown, grades have been realigned, programs added and some schools closed this academic year.

Austintown Superintendent Vince Colaluca said the new buildings, constructed with a combination of $23 million in Ohio School Facilities Commission funding and a 2.9-mill levy passed in May 2010, are wired to not only accommodate classroom technology such as touch-screen televisions and document cameras, but also for students to use their own iPads and smartphones in class, a concept he calls BYOD — or “bring your own device.”

That capability also has been added at the older buildings, he said.

BYOD was adopted last year.

“You can’t educate kids the same way we were educated,” Colaluca said. “They’re actually wired differently.”

Ensuring that students are using the devices for class and not for play is like any other classroom management challenge, he said. He likened it to a teacher making sure students are doing work rather than passing notes.

“As you give students responsibility, they’ll step up to that responsibility,” Colaluca said. “This gives them a sense of responsibility. You lay out the rules and the expectations and the kids will meet you there.”

Both buildings offer security features to keep students safe and a connector between New and Idaho roads will ease bus and car traffic around the campus, particularly during arrival and dismissal times.

Youngstown City Schools closed P. Ross Berry and Volney Rogers, both middle-school buildings, this year. Wilson, the district’s other middle-school building, will house the Programs of Promise, an alternative school program. University Project Learning Center, the alternative school formerly housed at the old Mary Haddow School building, was eliminated.

The moves are part of the district’s cost-cutting measures as well as an effort to improve test scores. The closed buildings were some of the lower performing on last year’s state tests.

“Sixth- and seventh-graders who went to Volney last year will become seventh and eighth graders at Chaney this year,” said Superintendent Connie Hathorn. “The students who were sixth- and seventh-graders at Wilson last year, will be seventh and eighth graders at East this year. I’m trying to utilize all of the space.”

As the district has lost students, buildings were left with a lot of empty seats.

The younger students will be housed in separate wings, away from the older students.

Another change this year is the Discovery Program for third- through eighth-graders and housed at the former Kirkmere Elementary School. The program will focus on six areas: Spanish, engineering/math, visual arts, performing arts, creative communications and investigative science as well as core subjects.

The other elementary schools will be for kindergartners through sixth-graders.

“We’re just trying to meet the needs of all the students,” Hathorn said.

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