Program to improve climate in Youngstown schools continues with state funding

By Denise Dick


The Ohio Department of Education will cover the costs of the second year of work of an education group working in the city school district.

The Quaglia Institute for Student Aspirations, based in Maine, began working in the city schools in fall 2012, aimed at improving school climate and ultimately student performance by giving students a voice in their schools.

It’s a three-year program, and the state paid for the first year, with Quaglia starting the school year in McGuffey, Taft, Bunn and Williamson elementary and Volney Rogers, Wilson and P. Ross Berry middle schools. Work began in January at East High School and Martin Luther King, Kirkmere and Harding elementary schools.

At a Youngstown City Schools Academic Distress Commission meeting last week, Adrienne O’Neill, commission chairwoman, said ODE has agreed to pay the $287,000 for the second year of Quaglia’s work in the district.

It’s likely, though, that the state won’t be able to pay for the program a third year so the district will have to come up with the funds, she said.

In a report to the commission, Quaglia personnel said the work is having an effect.

“We believe there are signs that the work in Youngstown is already beginning to have an impact,” the report said. “Whereas the trends in the Youngstown City School District had been negative for the past several years, there are signs of improvement to the school culture and the positive academic outcomes one would associate with it.”

About 180 students are participating in helping their schools become better for all students.

“As students in Youngstown continue to find a positive outlet for their desire for autonomy, we will continue to learn from them how best to improve the conditions that affect their learning and engagement,” the Quaglia report says.

“In turn, this will yield improved academic outcomes.”

Michael Corso, Quaglia’s chief academic officer, said this week that while the first year of the program focuses on staff team and student teams, those teams are blended in the second year.

Other districts in which Quaglia student surveys have been completed include Ada Exempted Village School District, Akron Public School District, Dayton Early College Academy, Maysville Local School District, Northmont City School District and South Euclid-Lyndhurst City School District.

The Youngstown district’s reconfiguration of schools and grades this school year — closing the three middle schools, sending seventh- and eighth-graders to the high schools, keeping sixth- graders at the elementary buildings and creating a Discovery Program at Kirkmere — means some retooling as the sense of belonging created at one school must shift to another. Keeping students in the elementary building for one more year will help with that belonging though, Corso said.

The institute is conducting a summer-bridge program, Project SAY, Student Aspirations Youngstown, this week for incoming seventh- and eighth-graders to East this year to help with the transition to high school.

The Quaglia report points to some improvement in student test scores in the last year but says many factors are at work.

“Aspirations is part of a larger story in Youngstown that includes first and foremost the dedication of educators at all levels from classroom to administration to commission,” the report says. Quaglia “experience has taught us that it is critical to view the larger picture even while focusing on particular classrooms or strategies to work on or change. As we move forward and more data is collected, we will have a fuller picture of what is creating successful academic outcomes in Youngstown.”

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