Y’town schools new plan is founded on an old idea

We have no doubt that our support for the Youngs-town City School District’s reconfiguration unveiled recently by Chief Executive Officer Krish Mohip will prompt some readers to accuse us of being inconsistent.

After all, we encouraged former Superintendent Dr. Connie Hathorn to act boldly in creating a new paradigm for the academically imploding urban school system.

Hathorn did just that. He developed such an unconventional scheme for kindergarten to 12th grade that his critics predicated chaos. They were wrong.

To be sure, there were growing pains, especially with the creation of two high schools for the 2011 academic year.

Chaney High School opened as a Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) and Visual- and Performing- Arts (VPA) school for sixth- through 12th-graders. East High School, for 10th- through 12th-graders, focused on business, education and law. Both schools adhered to core academic courses.

Unfortunately, Hathorn’s resignation in 2015 came at the most inopportune time for the academically troubled district.

The persistent failure of Youngstown’s students in the state proficiency tests forced the governor and the General Assembly to act. House Bill 70 is designed to provide flexibility in the governance of failing school districts.

Under the act, commonly referred to as the Youngstown Plan, control of the district was handed to a special state academic distress commission, thereby marginalizing the elected school board.

The commission was empowered to hire a chief executive officer with sweeping powers to run the Youngstown system. Enter Mohip.

The veteran public-school educator from Chicago has been on the job since June, and in that time has developed an academic recovery blueprint. The reconfiguration of the schools is the foundation upon which the academic revival will be built.

Yes, it is a major departure from former Superintendent Hathorn’s vision in that it embraces tradition.

Parental involvement

The return to neighborhood schools is not only designed to ensure that students throughout the city have the same academic opportunities and programs, but it is meant to engender parental involvement.

One of Hathorn’s loudest complaints about Youngstown was the lack of participation by parents and guardians in the school lives of their children.

Mohip, who has consistently argued that all students can learn under the proper circumstances, is aiming for a holistic approach to education in the urban school district.

“When we complain about parents not showing up and parental involvement, we have to consider it’s really hard for them transportation-wise when their kids’ schools are on the other side of the city,” Mohip said in rolling out the reconfiguration plan a couple of weeks ago. “This is about getting the kids as close as possible to their schools.”

Just as the formation of the high schools were the focus of Hathorn’s scheme, Chaney and East figure prominently in Mohip’s design.

The district will be split in two high-school regions: After eighth grade, students from Martin Luther King, Harding, Williamson and Taft elementary will attend East High.

Students from Paul C. Bunn Elementary, Discovery at Kirkmere, Volney Rogers Middle School, McGuffey Elementary and Programs of Promise at Wilson will attend a newly configured Chaney High School.

But even while he reorganizes the schools, evaluates the administrative and teaching staffs, upgrades the curriculum and reaches out to the community, Mohip has his eyes wide open.

“If anybody tells you the reconfiguration model will get us out of academic distress, that’s a lie,” the CEO told Vindicator editors and writers. “It’s all about teaching and learning.”

It is clear that the academic recovery won’t occur immediately, so this question looms: Will the chief executive officer be around for as long as it takes to ensure that Youngstown’s students not only excel in the state tests, but are ready for the academic rigors of college?

We hope Mohip stays put. The district can ill afford another change.

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