Youngstown schools chart course to long-term local control

YOUNGSTOWN — As the Youngstown Board of Education transitions from state to local control, it also is moving forward in implementing a three-year academic improvement plan to meet as many educational benchmarks as possible.

“We’ve written goals this year to keep ourselves accountable,” Christine Sawicki, the district’s chief academic officer, said during Tuesday’s Academic Distress Commission meeting at Choffin Career and Technical Center, which was followed by the regular board meeting.

The plan will be implemented next school year, and the district must meet over three years at least 13 of 24 benchmarks that are focused largely on growth in math, literacy and science. Also built into the plan are two one-year extensions, Sawicki said.

If the city schools fail to adhere to such requirements, the district could again fall under the control of a chief executive officer, she explained. The district is to move from state control, under House Bill 70, to local control in July.

Nine of 13 benchmarks that can be measured so far have been met or exceeded, said Sawicki, who added the others will be available in June after state assessments and the state report card are completed.

One of the benchmarks was literacy for grades 2 to 5 that states 32 percent of such students are to meet individual growth goals in reading by June, which would reflect an 8 percent increase from the 2020-21 school year. So far, the plan shows 39.3 percent of students have attained that goal.

In another, 28 percent of students in grades 4 and 5 were to show growth in math by June, which would be a 10 percent increase from the previous school year. The benchmark’s mid-year value is 49.3 percent, the report also shows.

The nine benchmarks were met or exceeded despite the COVID-19 pandemic that forced most of the district’s estimated 4,900 students to learn remotely, especially early in the school year. Having classroom time interrupted for extended time often can lead to gaps in learning and academic growth, Sawicki said.

To address that problem, the district will have a five-week summer school program from mid-June to late July in which students who are struggling can receive enrichment as well as mental health and wrap-around services, Justin Jennings, the board’s CEO, noted.

Participants will include social workers, educational assistants, deans and others to help such students plug learning gaps, Jennings explained.

Much of the same staff from the regular school year also will take part, Jennings and Sawicki said.

During the regular meeting, Pamela Gray, a senior specialist with Long Beach, Calif.-based Molina Healthcare, encouraged the board to support a districtwide vaccine challenge from April 1 to 30 to increase the COVID-19 vaccination rates especially in students ages 12 to 17. Molina also has offices in the Cleveland and Akron areas.

Each school that takes part can receive up to $3,000, with a minimum of $1,000, depending on the number of students who receive a first-time shot.

Schools that have one to 25 students within the age group who get their first vaccines would receive $1,000, those with 50 to 74 students would receive $2,000 and schools with 75 or more students who receive their initial shots would be given $3,000, Gray said.

“We want to see students stay in school in person and be taught in person,” she said.

In addition, $100 gift cards will be awarded to students, teachers or parents who get their first-time vaccinations, Gray said.

The challenge is significant also because vaccination rates among minority students are lower than those of non-minorities, she added.

Also at the session, the Rev. Kenneth L. Simon, pastor of New Bethel Baptist Church and a founder of the Community Leadership Coalition, told the board he wants to see state Auditor Keith Faber conduct a performance audit for the last six years, the amount of time the district has been under state control. Simon, a longtime critic of HB70, said it has not led to student improvements. Simon also called for greater transparency and accountability regarding a more detailed meeting agenda. The board took no action in requesting an audit.



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