New schools CEO meets with teachers, students, community

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The incoming

CEO of Youngstown City Schools asked the entire community to become involved in the transformation he envisions for the struggling school district.

In a meet-and-greet Wednesday night with about 300 teachers, students and community members at East High School, Justin Jennings said his goals are to create a curriculum and teaching designed so students, whom he calls scholars, get what they need to meet state educational standards.

Jennings, who will assume his post Aug. 1, said there will be professional development for teachers both academically and socially.

There has been some reduction in the central office staff, but there will be no reductions in the teaching staff, he said.

“Scholars need and deserve our support, but they also have a part to play in this. When you get up in the morning, be ready to learn,” Jennings said to students in the room.

Jennings said he is “excited and happy to be here doing what I’m doing because I love what I’m doing.”

Jennings told some of his personal story.

He was a high school All-American in basketball and went to Purdue University, but was reading at the third-grade level. Every weekend through his college career a high school teacher tutored him in reading.

He said his passion is to make sure to never let someone leave high school the way he did, unable to read.

Since college, he played professional basketball, was a basketball coach, earned several master’s degrees and is just a few months away from getting his doctorate.

When asked why he came to Youngstown, he says “Why not? This is a perfect place to see growth.”

“It’s not about turning the schools around. It’s about turning the community around. This has never been done before. It will take all of us,” he said.

“I’m here for the kids. If we don’t do everything to help them succeed, it’s the kids we are failing. It’s on us,” he said.

In order to get to know the community and keep its members informed and hear what they have to say, Jennings says he will have monthly parent and community meetings.

“One thing I’ve learned about this community is it’s a family,” he said.

Reaction from the audience to Jennings’ comments was positive.

“He said a lot of things that were well-received,” said Lloyd Hughes, a graduate of North High School.

“I think it will take a collective effort to get it done,” Hughes added.

“I was very impressed with Jennings’ background story and vision. I believe he is sincere about making changes in outcomes. I’ll give him all the support I can,” said the Rev. Kenneth Simon, senior pastor of New Bethel Baptist Church.

But it will be a hard sell until the residents get a voice in running the schools and that means until HB 70, Ohio’s school take-over law, is gone, he said.

“We need a good functioning board and someone like Jennings to return the district to local control,” the Rev. Mr. Simon contended.

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