Youngstown Early College shines as a beacon of hope over troubled school system


As the critical operation of easing the epidemic of academic distress plaguing the Youngstown City Schools slowly trudges on, those who will lead the charge would be remiss to overlook a model of excellence nestled surprisingly enough inside the beleaguered system itself.

That model is the Youngstown Early College high school that throughout its 12-year existence has refused to accept failure or mediocrity as options. In virtually every measurement of academic integrity, the school, housed in Fedor Hall at Youngstown State University, has risen to the top in stark contrast to the overall rock-bottom performances of the vast majority of other public schools in the city.

Need proof? One need only take a passing glance at the recently released state report cards for concrete evidence of YEC’s standing as a standout.

In five critical measurements, such as overall achievement, student progress and graduation rates, the district as a whole received all F’s and one D.

In those same measurements, however, the early college scored all A’s and one strong B. Its overall performance index score of 102.9 ranks it 12th highest among dozens of public schools in the eight largest urban districts in Ohio for the 2014-15 academic year.

It’s therefore not surprising that the school’s record of excellence has caught the eye of the prestigious Fordham Institute, a nonprofit think tank that conducts and publishes research on education policy in the United States.

The institute recently compiled research on graduation rates of Ohio’s urban high schools. Topping that list is YEC with a jaw-dropping and unbeatable score of 100 percent.

Contrast that with the 67.8 percent average four-year graduation rate districtwide in Youngstown, and one can clearly see that YEC is doing many things right.

ABOUT THE SCHOOL

Launched in 2004, Youngstown Early College is a partnership among the Youngstown City School District, Eastern Gateway Community College and YSU. At no cost to the family, students can earn both a high-school diploma and an associate’s degree or a minimum of 30 hours of college credit toward a baccalaureate degree. Approximately 240 students are enrolled in the academically intense school this year.

The school’s rigorous regimen has freshmen and sophomores largely consolidating four years of high school curriculum into two years; then, they spend the bulk of their junior and senior years earning college credit at YSU or EGCC.

Graduates usually gain a significant jump start in their college coursework that will save them hefty chunks of time, money and stress when entering college as full-time students.

That strategy has been a recipe for student success and for national recognition. In addition to Fordham Institute’s most-recent recognition, YEC has earned marks of distinction from Newsweek magazine that ranked it among America’s Top High Schools in 2014. U.S. News and World Report awarded the school a bronze medal for its academic performance, and the Ohio Department of Education has singled out YEC as a Progress School of Honor and High Performing School of Honor.

The students, teachers and staff at YEC deserve commendation for their mutual achievements that have brought deserved glory to a citywide school system much more accustomed to dishonor and disparagement.

The district currently is in a holding pattern in implementing the state Legislature-endorsed Youngstown Plan because of a challenge over composition of a new Academic Distress Commission. That commission will select a chief executive officer – paid for with state dollars – who will have broad-sweeping powers to implement significant and structural changes to move the district out of the cellar of academic achievement.

Once that commission is firmly in place and once the CEO of Youngstown schools is selected, much time and energy will be needed to pinpoint problems and prescribe solutions. Members of the commission and the CEO would be wise to review YEC not as an anomaly but as a potential model for reforming the district as a whole. Considering that much of its student body comes from backgrounds similar to those in failing school buildings, the lessons could be instructive as one cog in a fundamental reinvention of the city school district.

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