Great expectations greet start of new school year


Change is in the LATE-SUMMER air as about 80,000 students head back to school in the Mahoning Valley for the traditionally exciting start to a new academic year.

As detailed in The Vindicator’s annual back-to-school rundown in Sunday’s editions, changes in personnel, curriculum, grade configurations, security and more await students, staff and faculty in districts large and small.

The mission of all of those changes, of course, is to improve the educational climate for preschoolers through college students. As a result, optimism abounds.

Nowhere is that optimism greater or the expectations set higher than in the Youngstown City Schools District as it launches its critical third year under the Youngstown Plan, a state initiative that transferred leadership authority to a central decision-maker, CEO Krish Mohip, overseen by a state Academic Distress Commission. The elected school board plays only a secondary, advisory role.

Mohip said the goal for this school year is to make more progress in the five goals in his strategic plan: academic achievement; supporting the whole child; improving parent, family and community engagement; attracting and retaining a world-class workforce; and improving operations, budgeting and accountability.

Mohip has achieved some tangible successes in his first two years, including those in improved student math and reading scores, higher attendance rates and more wraparound services for the district’s students, many of whom come from economically disadvantaged families.

The real proof of the success of his leadership and the state of Ohio’s protocol for dealing with academically challenged school systems will come next month, when state report cards are issued.

Elsewhere in the Valley, significant and promising changes are in store as well. In the large suburban Boardman Local School District, social services and counseling for students are expanding greatly, as are security equipment and protocols to maximize student safety.

In Liberty, students and staff are experiencing the reconfiguration of schools, realignment of grade levels, addition of preschool and introduction of before- and after-school day care.

Those improvements and projects merely scratch the surface of the hodgepodge of new and innovative curricula for the 2018-19 school year in our region. They also demonstrate a sincere commitment to student success by talented educators and staff who far too often go grossly under-recognized.

In all districts, school pride will be reignited this weekend with the kickoff of another scintillating high school football season. The Vindicator joins in that excitement through publication of its annual Blitz High School Football Preview section in Thursday’s newspaper, which features team rosters and schedules for dozens of area teams. You won’t want to miss that informative supplement tomorrow.

BE CAUTIOUS, RESPONSIBLE

Amid all of this hubbub and renewed school pride, however, responsibility, caution and safety must remain watchwords for all to ensure a safe and secure cruise through the school year.

That means drivers must double down on the rules of the road when thousands of yellow buses return to their million-mile routes in Ohio this month.

Law-enforcement officials worry much about inattentive or irresponsible drivers passing stopped school buses that are loading or unloading children, the Ohio State Highway Patrol reports. Drivers approaching a school bus from either direction are required to stop at least 10 feet back from buses displaying the extended stop signs and red flashing lights.

The patrol also advises drivers to watch out for children walking to and from the bus stop when they are backing out of a garage or driveway.

For their part, parents must instruct their offspring to stop and look both ways before crossing the street when exiting a bus and to be on guard for any sudden traffic.

Parental responsibility also goes beyond safety concerns. According to the Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA, which tests 15-year-olds in the world’s leading industrialized nations, there is a direct relationship between parental involvement and student success.

Patte Barth, director of the Center for Public Education initiative of the National School Boards Association, reinforces that connection: “Monitoring homework; making sure children get to school; rewarding their efforts and talking up the idea of going to college. These parent actions are linked to better attendance, grades, test scores, and preparation for college.”

With such engaged and active parents, dedicated and creative teachers and motivated and safety-conscious students, there is little reason why the 2018-19 academic year cannot meet and beat the high expectations all should set today at its starting gate.

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