Charter schools in Youngstown need improvement

By Denise Dick


The chairwoman of the Youngstown Schools Academic Distress Commission is waging what she calls a one-woman crusade to ensure all students in the city — even those at charter schools — get a quality education.

Adrienne O’Neill is contacting sponsors and officials from the charter and community schools that were designated in “academic watch” or “academic emergency” on the latest school report card.

“They have to do better,” she said.

The academic distress commission, the first in Ohio, was appointed in 2010 after the city schools failed to meet adequate yearly progress for four years and were designated in academic emergency. At that time, the district was rated the worst in the state.

The commission’s charge is to improve student achievement. The district moved up one rank to “academic watch” on the 2010-11 report card and remained in that designation for 2011-12. School officials have said they expect more improvement for the next report card.

“I think if we’re going to improve all schools in Youngstown, we have to improve all the schools that Youngstown City students attend,” O’Neill said. “It’s all part of the same thing.”

Community schools operating in the city that earned the low designations on the latest state report card are Mahoning Valley Opportunity Center, Life Skills Center of Youngstown, Mahoning County High School, Mahoning Unlimited Classroom, Mollie Kessler School, Summit Academy Secondary School and Youngstown Academy of Excellence.

The city school district is the sponsor of the Mahoning Valley Opportunity Center, and the Mahoning County Educational Service Center is the sponsor of both Mahoning County High School and Mahoning Unlimited Classroom.

A third school sponsored by the ESC, Youngstown Community School, was designated excellent on the most recent report card as well as in years past. The school also has earned other awards from the state.

Ron Iarussi, ESC superintendent, said he plans to meet with commission members next week. The ESC is interested in leasing space in one of the city school buildings for its alternative school.

“Two schools that we sponsor are designated by the Ohio Department of Education as dropout prevention and recovery schools — Mahoning County High School and Mahoning Unlimited Classroom,” he said.

The state is considering revisions in the account- ability system for such schools, but as of now, the accountability system for dropout prevention and recovery schools is different from that for traditional charter or community schools.

Those schools get a waiver from the state because of their function, he said.

Mahoning County High School is a collaboration with the Mahoning County Juvenile Court.

It’s for students who have dropped out of their home schools, are on the verge of dropping out, have been expelled or have had dealings with the court, Iarussi said.

“The goal is to rehabilitate some of those kids and get them back into some of their regular school districts,” he said. “Mahoning County High School has moved up a designation and showed improvement.”

The school moved from academic emergency in 2010-11 to academic watch in 2011-12.

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