Akron superintendent commends community collaborative efforts during State of Schools address

Akron Beacon Journal |

--For the past year, Akron Public Schools has been in the process of a major transition engulfing everything from building swaps and student consolidations to new learning models and more.

In the process, the district has collected a swath of community partners to help along the way.

APS Superintendent David James paid homage to the district's partners during his annual State of Schools address Tuesday to about 450 Akron Press Club attendees at the Tangier.

Last year during the same speech, James announced the creation of North High School's Academy of Health and Human Services in partnership with Akron Children's Hospital.

North is the first school to take on the district's new College and Career Academy model.

Starting next school year, six Akron public high schools will become freshman academies, where students will spend ninth grade deciding on one of 57 pathways to focus their education. Then, in the 2019-2020 school year, 10th-graders will embark on the path they chose as all the high schools become full four-year academies.

In preparing for the transition, James said the district has been busy working with partners and acquiring new ones on the local to national level to help implement the academy model, enhance hands-on learning experiences and educate "the whole child."

"Over the last 10 years, I have spoken about the need for our entire community, including business, not-for-profit, philanthropic, faith-based government, and individuals to wrap their arms around our kids and support their success," James said. "Over the last 12 months I can honestly say that we are moving the needle."

Among the partners James highlighted was United Way of Summit County, which the district has been working with to carry out the organization's "Bold Goals for 2025"-- two of which directly relate Akron's reading levels and college and career readiness.

Other partners James highlighted include Summit Education Initiative, which helps the district measure its progress; ConXus NEO, which has helped the district develop its College and Career Academy model; the LeBron James Family Foundation, which is starting a new school within the district; Stark State, which provides a career certificate program to APS kids; and the GAR Foundation, which provides financial support and innovative programing.

"We are all in and feeling very positive about [the partnership,]" said Christine Mayer, the president of the GAR Foundation. "Schools are the future of our city, and they feed into success overall for our city."

James also announced a new partnership between APS and Kent State University, the details of which will be revealed at the university.

"All of us are committed to provide all students with the opportunity to explore their world and to be better prepared for what comes after graduation," James said. "This can be accomplished through the power of partnerships."

During his speech, James also praised collaboration going on within the schools.

He commended the treasurer and finance team for postponing a levy. While districts across the state are seeking tax increases from voters on average every six years, Akron Public Schools is now heading into its eighth year without a levy on the ballot, James said.

He also updated the crowd on alternative pathways to graduation that the state put in place and the district began implementing this year. As of now, 636 seniors in the district -- 42 percent of the 2018 class -- are enrolled and participating in one of those pathways to graduate on time.

James also addressed some of the issues and challenges the district is facing.

At least four schools and all of the district's administrative offices are in aging buildings that haven't been touched since APS underwent its districtwide construction project. James said he will be "looking at options for upgrades and renovations to the facilities."

He also discussed concerns raised recently by the teachers union over the way administration disciplines kids who commit assault in the classroom. The issue came to a boil Monday evening when hundreds of people protested the board of education meeting in support of the union.

The union wants students found guilty of assault to be transferred to another school building. But James said that could be disruptive, too, and addressing the core problem of bad behavior in classrooms will take more than just effort from schools -- it will take even more community partnerships and collaboration.

"We can't just wish everyone out into the corn field," James said. "... Schools are sucking up everything from the community they're in. Discipline isn't just about schools, it's about the whole community."

In the midst of major transitions, James is one of three candidates being considered for the position as superintendent of Columbus schools.

"The opportunity to lead the largest public school district in the state of Ohio is compelling," James said. "But please rest assured, your friendship and your partnership will remain in my heart for the rest of my life if I'm selected in Columbus."

After his speech, James received a standing ovation and praise from the crowd.

"I think we're very excited about all the community collaborations that Akron Public Schools is engaged in right now," said David Jennings, the director of the Akron-Summit County Public Library. "It's really charting a new course for education in our community."

Theresa Cottom can be reached at 330-996-3216 or tcottom@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow her on Twitter @Theresa_Cottom.

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