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Focus on workforce skills forges many improvements at Choffin

Staff photo /Chris McBride... Choffin Career Center Director Mike Saville oversees student Gabriel Cruz as he works on his virtual reality project. Cruz seeks to perfect his animations and testi how the programming he created is working.

YOUNGSTOWN — There’s an energy throughout the halls of Choffin Career and Technical Center.

It’s hard not to notice as teachers and students laugh and joke with school director Mike Saville. Many changes here have transformed the center as it provides young people with workforce skill and direction.

Saville isn’t new to bringing change.

He’s worked at the ground level, turning around schools since being chosen to oversee the implementation of an “academy model” while an assistant principal at struggling Thomas Jefferson High School in Rockford, Illinois.

“It was a whole paradigm shift of taking an academic building and infusing career tech ed into every level of academics, from English to math and social studies,” Saville said.

The academy model, he explained, takes core classes such as English, math and science and focuses on using these as project-based learning experiences that equip students with employable skills to carry over into the workforce.

“The model brings collaboration with teachers and administration to create a better opportunity for a relationship with the kids,” Saville said.

After one year piloting the model, the concept grew to four “career academies” the next year . Eventually, Saville said, the district adapted the model to three other high schools.

The Rockford school, as a result, went during his tenure from being what Saville described as a “high discipline school” with poor attendance and low achievement to showing significant improvement.

“We were developing relationships that are strong and creating support networks for the kids’ social-emotional support and academic support. It translates to improved behaviors because students realize that we actually care about their future,” Saville said.

He said the experience gave him an inner look to school reform and how to implement organizational changes.

MOVING TO OHIO

As Saville continued his career in education, he was drawn to Ohio after discovering how the state embraces career tech education.

“I loved how supported and championed career tech ed was here. Being a part of that movement here made me more passionate to come to Ohio,” he said.

While Mahoning County wasn’t on his radar, Saville said he instantly came to love what the career center in Canfield was doing, calling it the best career tech center he had encountered.

Saville sums up his time at the Mahoning County Career and Technical Center as being a “learning curve,” adjusting to the ways of Ohio’s career tech ed, helping him get his footing and setting him up for his next challenge: Choffin in Youngstown.

IMPACT AT CHOFFIN

When Saville and two new principals were brought over from MCCTC, administrators gave themselves a three-year window to fix a school struggling with behavioral issues, poor graduation rates and failing test scores.

They focused on three goals: improving graduation time, helping students earn industry credentials and preparing students for their careers and college.

At the time, looking over a low-enrolled classroom of four to six students, Don Hileman also knew that something different needed to be done to reshape the program. Hileman, the interactive app and game design instructor, laid out the idea of expanding the program into the realm of 3D programming, animation and game design.

He approached a responsive Saville, who shared in his vision.

Now, Hileman’s class helps about 15 students earn certification credentials that prepare them for careers in the mobile app and gaming industry. They are learning a multitude of skills in the world of programming, design, augmented reality and artificial intelligence, among other disciplines.

“The goal is to prepare well-rounded students that aren’t just a programmer, they can collaborate and understand others with different backgrounds,” said Hileman.

Looking around his class, he said the changes have modernized the program, equipping students with the latest technology that gives them a leg up on the competition.

“It’s a different school. Even from a few years ago, it looked like an older school. Saville has helped us adapt, change and grow,” Hileman said. “We always say we’re teaching tomorrow today. If there’s a piece of equipment that can open up opportunities, he’ll find a way.”

BETTER GRADES

The type of change Saville has brought to the Choffin is one that emphasizes collaboration among 18 instructors, support staff and administration. They’ve put their heads together to embrace change while working on how their programs can be improved.

When the new set of administrators came to Choffin in 2017, they applied themselves toward making changes inside that three-year window.

Choffin’s state report card over the years since has reflected a dramatic turnaround, the school boasting a B grade on its most recent report.

The embrace of the academy system has seen the school jump from 0 percent of students with credentials to 87 percent coupled with a graduation rate increasing to 97 percent.

Impressive results also have occurred in student behaviors, officials said.

The administration has changed the response to in-school suspensions, though not with more discipline. Now there is more of an intervention-based approach, called “career and college readiness intervention.” It has been keeping more students in the classroom, they say.

In 2020, the school’s success was honored with the 2020 Gene Bottoms Pacesetter Award for establishing a culture of continued improvement.

THE FUTURE

The center just recently celebrated completion of new facilities offering five new programs: medical and allied health; fitness training health and wellness; physical therapy and athletic training; patient care dental technology and radiography; and training for positions in health care administrations, medical office and business management.

Saville said he is far from done with his vision.

In the future he’s looking to more opportunities to further expand Choffin and provide a world-class education experience for its students.

“Our motivating factor is creating entrepreneurs here in our school,” Saville said. “This embrace of entrepreneurship is going to give our students an opportunity to fill some of the vacuum that currently exists in Youngstown and start to create pieces of the puzzle that make up downtown and the culture here.”

cmcbride@tribtoday.com

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