APS Shows Plans, Options

Update: I Promise School
Posted on 05/04/2018
Image of Proposed Interior of I Promise School(as reported by Ariel Hakim, Akron.com/West Side Leader)

Image of Proposed Interior of I Promise School

The space Akron Public Schools (APS) has been using as its swing site for many years while old school buildings are demolished and new community learning centers (CLCs) are being built is about to get its own transformation.

Once this school year ends and Case Elementary moves into its brand new CLC off Garman Road in West Akron, the building at 400 W. Market St. becomes the new I Promise School, a project initiated by the LeBron James Family Foundation in partnership with APS.

At the April 30 APS Board of Education meeting, Keith Liechty, the district’s liaison with the foundation, led a presentation on facility improvements plans.

“If all things go well, we’ll be ready July 30,” he said.

The school’s inaugural 240 students, all third- and fourth-graders, are expecting that day will be their first day of school in the 2018-19 school year, nearly a month earlier than other APS students.

The school will bring James’ I Promise students from all of the district’s schools into one location and rely on a STEM-based (science, technology, engineering and math) curriculum. The I Promise School also will feature “wraparound support” for students and their families, making space for resources like the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank and other community resources and supports inside its walls.

“We’re going to pilot at 400 West Market a physical space for our resource center, where we’ll be able to bring in some of those partners,” said Liechty.

After the first year, the plan is to add two grade levels per year until the school ultimately welcomes first- through eighth-graders, according to district officials.

Donations have been coming in, including carpet squares branded with the school’s name, technology upgrades and school supplies, all of which will come before the board for approval, said Liechty.

A number of changes are intended for the building’s outside appearance.

Debra Foulk, executive director of business affairs, said a plan to construct an arch with the school’s name on it at the street entrance on West Market Street, is in the works.

Also, landscaping is getting an overhaul, with a number of bushes to be removed and replaced with other plantings requiring less maintenance and opening up the view of the front of the building, she said.

Board members also viewed a mock-up of two sets of 3-foot-high cement lettering to double as bench seating to flank the building’s entrance, spelling “I PROMISE” on one side and “WE ARE FAMILY” on the other.

In other changes, the flagpole in the center of the front entrance’s concrete is to be moved and replaced by the foundation’s logo installed in the concrete, added Foulk.

Local artist Don Drumm has donated a 15-foot outdoor sculpture, with placement to be determined, added Liechty.

Inside, the school is being furnished with what are being called “I Promise desks,” tables shaped like a hexagon cut in half, according to renderings. Classrooms will incorporate foundation slogans and art in school colors, which are white with accents of gray and black, said Foulk.

The main staircase is getting a renovation as well, with a “shoe wall,” incorporating shoes James has worn being created on one side, said Foulk.

The school is also to house a video lab, which is expected to double as WKYC-TV’s Akron location and provide opportunities for students to learn video production and editing, she said.

Renovations won’t make their way to the gym before the next school year, noted Foulk, but project leaders are putting it in their future plans.

As far as funding for the school is concerned, James has brought a number of partners to the table, but it’s important to note that whatever isn’t being funded by a partner is coming out of his pockets and his foundation’s coffers and not a burden to APS, according to Michele Campbell, the foundation’s executive director.

James is driving the project, she said.

“When we’re bringing these visions that he has, it’s about creating moments and making every step of [the students’ and their families’] journey really important,” said Campbell.

Board member Lisa Mansfield reiterated the I Promise School is the pilot for a model that could be used throughout the district.

“It’s unprecedented. We’re doing the best practices and putting them all in one place,” she said. “Whatever we learn from that turns the whole district into a world class district.”

“Many of us are in the room that a few years ago got to celebrate LeBron’s homecoming, but I think that the same people sitting around this room, we all know that he never really left,” added Board President Patrick Bravo.

In other business, the board:
  • heard an update on graduation requirements for the Class of 2018. Of the 1,444 seniors currently attending APS, 93 percent are expected to graduate, a 19 percent increase over last year, said Mark Black, executive director of secondary education;
  • approved hiring Maria Meeker as the new principal of Miller South School for the Visual and Performing Arts;
  • noted social studies textbooks and digital resources for grades four through 12 proposed for purchase are available for review, and a resolution for adoption of the materials will be on the next meeting’s agenda;
  • approved a settlement for the school district to pay two subcontractors a total of $316,000 due to delays on the Case building project caused by Vendrick Construction, the general contractor, according to Superintendent David James. The district will look to Vendrick to recoup those funds, he said; and
  • recessed into private executive session to discuss personnel and legal matters, with no action taken afterward.

The next regular APS board meeting is scheduled for May 14 at 5:30 p.m. at the Sylvester Small Administration Building, located at 70 N. Broadway St.
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