Published: Tuesday, October 30, 2007
Conference encourages parents to take action
A representative from The Regional Chamber and Ohio State also spoke.
YOUNGSTOWN High school dropout rates are staggering and funding is scant, but one local organization is turning to parents to solve the crisis in urban school districts.
Faith-based community activist group ACTION had an education conference Monday at the Choffin Career & Technical Center, hoping to begin a "parent movement" to create change in local under-performing districts.
"The main focus is really that increasing parent involvement," said Kirk Noden, director of the Alliance for Congregational Transformation Influencing our Neighborhoods. "You can't improve the quality of schools without them leading the way."
About 130 parents, administrators, politicians and civic leaders attended the event, hearing lectures on the problem before splitting into seven workshops.
Small group sessions addressed topics from "parent patrols" to developing a parent-teacher organization.
In attendance at the event was Linda Hoey, a South Side mother of four, and a member of Youngstown's Parent Patrol. Hoey and members of her organization visit every new family that moves into the Youngstown school district to hand deliver a copy of the district's parent handbook.
They work to provide impoverished parents with emergency social services. And they call parents to inform them of important meetings and board of education meetings, Hoey said.
"We're wanting to bridge the gap," she added. "We want to work with the Youngstown city schools teachers and staff so that we can get our students through the Youngstown City School District."
Among the three keynote speakers was Youngstown schools Superintendent Wendy Webb, who urged attendees to support the district's 9.5-mill levy on Nov. 6.
In the last four years, Webb said, the district has improved graduation rates from 51.4 percent to 71.9 percent.
"We need to continue to move forward," said Webb. "If we want a future in Youngstown, you got to have every resource available."
Webb credited the Parent Patrol and other programs designed to improve graduation rates for the district's recent gains.
"Parent involvement is critical it's the No. 1 factor," said Webb in an interview after the meeting. Parents "are the first and most important teachers in their children's lives."
Also speaking at the event was Tony Paglia, vice president of government affairs for The Regional Chamber, and Andrew Grant-Thomas of Ohio State University's Kirwan Institute.
Paglia advocated the consolidation of local school district administrations as a way to reduce taxes and potentially provide college scholarships to local graduates.
Kalamazoo, Mich., a hard-hit industrial town, was able to boost property values when it offered generous college scholarships to all its graduates, Paglia said.
Grant-Thomas suggested an innovative approach to education reform undertaken by Wake County, N.C. That county experienced improved academic assessments in all demographics after it dispersed poor students throughout the county, he said.
But waiting for higher powers to intervene isn't enough, said Ellis Payne, an ACTION leader. Members of ACTION hope that change in local schools can begin now, with local families.
"Our dropout rate, while improving, is still as high as 35 percent in some districts," Payne said. "This is a crisis that we all bear responsibility for. We must build a movement for change that is from the bottom up."