State of Akron Public Schools

Posted on 03/04/2019
Image of Editorial(An editorial from Beacon Journal)

In his State of the Schools address last week, David James said something almost in passing that deserves emphasis. The superintendent of the Akron Public Schools noted how he likes to stress that the I Promise School, sparked by the LeBron James Family Foundation, is an Akron public school. “Why?” he continued. “Because too many times we are told that public schools cannot be innovative and simply don’t work. We are proving the critics wrong.”

This is a pivotal time for the city schools. As the superintendent explained, the district has set in motion initiatives designed to improve academic performance and outcomes for students. The idea is to deliver real and sustained progress, strengthening the regional economy and enhancing the quality of life.

James drew the connection: Economic development starts with education. An Akron seeking to halt its population decline won’t succeed without higher performing city schools. More, the regional economy will not raise its performance if so many residents are excluded essentially from opportunity.

So it is encouraging to see the district move forward with the college and career academy model, which has proved successful elsewhere. In August, the model will be ready in each city high school, multiple learning pathways available, reflecting the range of students and aligned with regional talent needs. The model depends on community involvement, especially from businesses, which gets to the five words the superintendent often repeated: “Connecting Community to the Classroom.”

The promising thing, as the superintendent reported, is how the involvement has exceeded expectations. Now the commitment must continue at a high level, becoming no less than part of the DNA of the district and the city.

The superintendent brought with him an example. During the speech, the GAR Foundation unveiled a three-year, $1.2 million investment in Essential Experiences, a program designed to see that each student in the early grades gains exposure to six leading cultural and educational institutions, including the Akron Art Museum, the Akron Zoo and Hale Farm. These visits will be tied closely to the curriculum, “field trips on steroids,” according to the superintendent.

The purpose is to advance learning. Yet there is more, the equity and opportunity components, the notion that the community does well to ensure that each student sees the inside of these places and gains a full introduction to what they offer.

Today, many students do not get the chance.

True, too, is that many students live in poverty. They face trauma that can overwhelm. With that in mind, the United Way of Summit County, as the superintendent pointed out, is leading the charge in providing “wraparound services” to help students and families overcome such barriers to learning. That is the mission of the I Promise School, which has the potential to become a model, its practices applied across the district and beyond Akron to elevate young lives.

So the stakes are high, and the circumstances are most difficult. The superintendent cited the challenges in dealing with student discipline problems. If the matter involves a tiny share of all students, disruption takes away from learning. It is important that administrators work with teachers to devise a way forward.

It also is important the state lawmakers do their job in improving the school funding formula. The superintendent noted the effort in progress. It will fall short if it fails to drive additional resources to schools with higher numbers of disadvantaged students. Currently, on this count, the formula is neither adequate nor equitable. Such an investment would be particularly timely for Akron, where the pieces are coming together in an effort to achieve better results in the classroom and for the city.
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