Youngstown school system hangs in balance this year

If state education officials are to be believed, this is a make-or-break year for the Youngstown City School District. Should the system fail to show marked improvement in the state report card, the Ohio Department of Education, with the support of Gov. John Kasich, will step in.

The district has been under academic watch for the past two years, after being in academic emergency in the 2009-10 and 2008-09 school years. It was under watch in 2008-09.

With such a record, it is no wonder that the state has said, “Enough!”

Although a state-mandated Academic Distress Commission has been in charge of the district’s recovery since emergency was declared, consider this public warning from Chairwoman Adrienne O’Neill at a gathering last summer of the Alliance for Congregational Transformation Influencing Our Neighborhoods (ACTION):

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

Would a continuous improvement rating be dramatic enough for the interim state superintendent of public instruction?

In 2011, Michael Sawyers, then state deputy superintendent, did little to hide his displeasure at the school district’s touting its move up from academic emergency to academic watch.

“There’s this perception that there’s this big celebration to be had. That’s not true,” said Sawyers, who had accompanied then Superintendent Stan W. Heffner on a visit to Youngstown. They met with The Vindicator’s editorial board.

Heffner was also blunt in his assessment of the Youngstown district’s climbing out of the academic cellar:

“Academic watch is nothing to celebrate.”

The two state educators noted that the improvement was due to gains in student attendance.

By contrast, last year’s report card showed real academic progress, with the system barely missing a continuous improvement designation.

Governor’s award

Indeed, the Governor’s Thomas Edison Award for Excellence in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education given to Chaney STEM School is a clear indication of the progress that’s being made.

Only 62 schools throughout the state earned the award for accomplishments in 2011.

In announcing the recipients, Lynn E. Elfner, the Ohio Academy of Science’s chief executive officer, offered this insight: “Receiving a Governor’s Thomas Edison Award for Excellence sends a clear signal that these schools and teachers value student-originated, inquiry-based science and technology education as envisioned for the next-generation science- education standards being developed nationally.”

Chaney scored nine out of 10 on its application.

This year, the city school district could well see a continuation of the academic gains made in 2012, which Gov. Kasich and state education officials have long sought.

There would be no reason for a state takeover of the system if such progress is reflected in the new report card.

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