Monday, October 29, 2007

Progress and continuing struggles in the Youngstown City Schools

The election is next week, and one of the hottest issues is the proposed levy for the Youngstown City Schools. This week on Lincoln Avenue, I talk with Dr. Wendy Webb, the district’s superintendent, about both the good things happening in the local schools and the continuing challenges.

New school buildings and significant renovations across the district are providing better learning environments for our students, and if we are to believe education scholar Jonathan Kozol, that will make a real difference. Better facilities not only increase access to technology, they also send a message that students and education are valued.

No doubt, the Youngstown City Schools continue to struggle with test scores and graduation rates, yet both have improved over the past few years. Graduation rates are up by about almost 18% since 2002, for example. Yet Youngstown’s challenges with educational achievement are not unique; most urban districts struggle with the same issues. While Youngstown continues to lag behind state targets, the improvements are real and significant. I think it’s also important to remember that the problems are much bigger than education. Students will always struggle to learn if they don’t have enough to eat, come from homes where daily life is a constant struggle, or have little hope about the future. The challenges sometimes feel overwhelming. And yet the local district is making progress.

Unfortunately, the Youngstown City Schools continue to face a serious financial crisis. Despite reducing staff and other expenses, the district’s budget will likely be several million dollars in the red by the end of the school year. It’s always hard to accept the idea of paying more, especially for a district that consistently lags behind in its performance. But the progress made over the past few years suggests there’s good reason to invest in the Youngstown City Schools. And if we want this community to be able to pursue a different kind of economic future, then we need to educate the next generation. As I see it, a vote for the levy is a vote for a better economic future for all of us.

I want to make one additional observation: the district could do a better job of telling its story. While the local press usually zooms in on the bad news, the district has plenty of evidence of progress. Yet finding that data on the district’s website is difficult. I went looking for links to include in this blog, but I couldn’t find the information I wanted. UPDATE: The district has now posted the latest issue of its "Dispatch," which includes some of the statistics on graduation rates and other news.

1 comment:

Tyler said...

Sherry, thanks for featuring this issue. I'm amazed by people who say the Yo City Schools shouldn't get any money because they're failing. It's like denying water to someone suffering from dehydration!