Youngstown Early College in Youngstown, Ohio, was recognized by the Fordham Institute for having a 100% graduation rate. The Youngstown Vindicator calls it “a beacon of hope over a troubled school system,” and suggests “members of the commission and the CEO would be wise to review [Youngstown Early College] not as an anomaly but as a potential model for reforming the district as a whole.” The current interim Superintendent also added in another article “That’s our shining star, and I wouldn’t do anything to change that.”
One has to ponder several questions given the data. In 2012, KnowledgeWorks presented a plan to Youngstown City Schools and the Academic Distress Commission that built on the success of the Early College. It got no traction. Four years later, we still want to help.
KnowledgeWorks and EDWorks have a long history of implementing Early College High Schools and our success can be seen throughout Ohio. As there is more and more talk about what’s to be done in Youngstown, I believe that now is the time for us create change and improve education opportunities for students.
Not only have things not improved, they are worse than ever. The message is they have a system that is severely broken and a couple groups of people in control that are happy with status quo. The NAACP is putting on pressure for change and I believe that now is the time for us (KW) to get active here for change and do the work we tried to get started in 2012.
If the Early College High School is a shining star, why isn’t the district, school board, state legislators and Academic Distress Commission taking a serious look at how to turn one “shining star” into a constellation of bright spots throughout the district? The solution is simple and would require far less funds than are currently being spent by the district on other efforts. Expanding Early College would mean that college attendance becomes an expectation for every student in the district with no exceptions.
One of the basic tenants of Early College is that it makes higher education an option for all students. That was a core belief when Youngstown Early College was founded, but it is not the current mindset of the district. The staff at Youngstown Early College get that “those kids” can succeed at Early College and degree completion is not only an option for high flyers but for all students. Everyone in the district needs to embrace that college can be an option for all students.
Quality education is a necessity for a community to thrive and grow. Education brings business and industry to an area, with jobs soon to follow. Working in partnership with organizations like the Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development, pathways can be developed for students to become a conduit for growth in the business sector. Living wages bring housing and attract others to the area.
The way to a better Youngstown is to establish a cradle to career network for every child that starts with quality early childhood education, continues through high school and post-secondary education and leads to quality job options for all residents.
What can the community do to improve education options in Youngstown?
In a recent meeting with George Freeman and Jimma McWilson, President and Vice President of the Youngstown branch of the NAACP, there was a long discussion about community involvement in improving education options for students.
Does every parent in the district understand that Early College is a way for a free college education? With Early College High School and the right students supports in place, the dream of every student to obtain a college degree can be attained, no matter their economic or social background. Engaging the local faith-based community to assist with educating residents about issues and working to provide support for students can help open things up for Early College. Parents need to be informed about the issues so they express their concerns around the lack of expansion of the program to the district, board, academic distress commission, and state legislators.
We can expand upon the success of Youngstown Early College so it is no longer the bright spot of Youngstown City Schools. The district can be a whole constellation of bright spots. We must look past current tensions in the district and instead look ahead at the change and transformation that can take place. As has occurred in other cities in Ohio, Early College has the potential to transform a community.
There is still a chance for this sort of transformation in Youngstown. It’s not too late. Let’s get things moving for the 2016-2017 school year and start making things better for all students in Youngstown.