School board, commission talk concerns
First meeting between groups
YOUNGSTOWN — The first joint meeting between the Youngstown Academic Distress Commission and the Youngstown Board of Education outlined what the district plans to do in teaching literacy, mathematics and science.
The district’s primary focus for academic improvement will be on literacy, math and science — topics discussed during the more than two-hour virtual meeting.
Board member Brenda Kimble said this first joint session was a good start but expressed concern that everything was presented to board of education members.
“We were allowed to ask questions about what they presented, but they did not ask our advice about what to do when making decisions,” Kimble said. “That would be more collaborative. They did not give us the opportunity to provide input, making us a part of moving the district forward.”
School board President Ronald Shadd, with whom commission chairman John Richard worked to arrange the meeting, said it was a good start and is looking forward to more in the future.
“They did share a lot of information,” Shadd said. “They provided explanations of their plans and the rationale for them.”
Aaron Bouie III, principal at William Holmes McGuffey Elementary, said the district will be focusing on making progress in its reading achievement plan.
The district is working to improve the literacy skills of all students in all grades by establishing grade-appropriate programs, intervention programs and coaching for teachers. Improving literacy is its focus because that affects every other academic discipline, including mathematics and science.
Robert Kearns, Chaney High School principal, noted the job of every teacher — regardless of their specialty — is to teach reading. “Teaching literacy is everyone’s responsibility,” he said.
The district is establishing common routines and strategies in each of the major educational disciplines, so its students can go from one building to another and receive the same level of instruction.
Concern was expressed about the growth of English language learners –students who have English as a second language — and their ability to be taught at grade level with other students.
Commission member Selina Cotton questioned whether the district will hire more teachers to help ELL students.
Ava Yeager, chief of school improvement, said the district has and is seeking to obtain more teachers with certification to teach their academic specialties as well as English language learners.
“We have the most in the area,” she said. “We have other school districts trying to get our ELL teachers.”
School district Chief Executive Officer Justin Jennings emphasized that best practices are for these students not to be separated from other students but to be given assistance and continue at grade level with other students in their classes.
MATH AND SCIENCE
Similar to literacy, the district’s math and science programs are being designed so teachers with similar disciplines will provide the same information to their students.
All students have access to intervention, where they can get assistance in subjects.
While students can request intervention help, the need for intervention usually is identified by teachers through data, according to Kearns.
Bridget Lambright, who will be in charge of the district’s Science Technology Engineering Arts and Math program — STEAM — expects there’ll be an increased emphasis on incorporating the arts in science instruction in future years because it excites students’ interest in learning.
Key to the success of STEAM will be partnerships, exposures and experiences, she said. The district is working to establish partnerships with NASA, the Cleveland Clinic and other organizations to expose students to new career fields and new experiences.
“Arts is a way to hook scholars to literacy and math,” she said.
The district also announced the purchase of new books for its science program.