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Akron Council, APS focus on finding solutions

6/20/2013 - West Side Leader
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By Stephanie Kist

Joint meeting covers topics ranging from litter to data management

DOWNTOWN AKRON — Members of Akron City Council and the Akron Public Schools (APS) Board of Education agree that working together to communicate the assets of the APS District to the community is and will be vitally important into the future.

The full Council and full board met together for the first time in recent memory June 17 with four main points of discussion before them. The joint meeting, which took place in Council Chambers before the regular City Council meeting, was the idea of Councilman Russel Neal (D-Ward 4).

The citywide $800 million Community Learning Center (CLC) building project, which is progressing into its fourth segment, hinges on enrollment numbers, said APS Board member the Rev. Curtis Walker, who gave Council members a swift run-down on the status of the project. King CLC and Firestone/Litchfield CLC are under way, in addition to other CLCs, he said.

“Enrollment is driving all of this. … That’s going to determine in the long run where we are,” he said, adding there are indicators that decreasing enrollment has begun to level off a bit.

Board member Bruce Alexander said 44 students are returning to APS this year from charter schools.

Councilwomen Linda Omobien (D-at large and a former APS board member) and Marilyn Keith (D-Ward 8 and a retired APS elementary teacher) said Council members want to be communicating factually accurate information to help sell the district and turn the tide on enrollment.

“We want to be the ambassadors,” said Keith, who added it is an “illusion” that charter school students are performing well.

Neal expressed the desire for Council members and board members to work together to include positive information on the schools in packets of neighborhood information for new residents. In neighborhoods, he said, it’s no secret that “schools are the greatest asset.”

Council and board members also talked about the demolition of the older schools in the district to make way for the new CLCs, agreeing on the importance for community members to bid farewell to the older schools.

Councilman Michael Williams (D-at large), a Buchtel High School alumni, said it was very emotional for him to see his alma mater one last time.

“I appreciate new Buchtel, but that’s not my Buchtel,” he said.

Board Vice President Lisa Mansfield said the demolition of Voris Elementary School illustrated this.

“In the future, the community should get a chance to say goodbye,” she said. “I would like to say that one’s a lesson learned.”

She said working with Councilman Donnie Kammer (D-Ward 7) in the wake of the demolition of Voris — which upset some former students who weren’t able to walk through the school before it was torn down — is one of the best examples of Council and the board cooperating.

Kammer also brought up the issue of litter and loose trash on school properties, saying he’s heard concerns from citizens and would like to see an effort made to address the point.

Another point of discussion at the meeting included the possibility of synergizing information management systems to communicate better regarding individual students — for instance, for both a coach and a teacher to communicate online and have access to common information about a student. Neal said Boston has such a system that could serve as an example.

Mansfield warned that federal privacy issues could come into play and she would be interested to learn how Boston dealt with that issue.

“We do have a lot of fantastic partnerships with a lot of entities in the city,” she said.

Other issues to look for “creative solutions,” in the words of Council President Garry Moneypenny (D-Ward 10), included handling increasing demand for CLC usage (a good problem to have, noted Omobien), and the influx of non-English-speaking Asian students, especially in the North Hill area.

Ward 1 Councilman Jim Hurley, who represents North Hill, said that latter situation will take patience and endurance to navigate as younger siblings work through the school system and help dissolve cultural and language barriers.

The meeting left open the possibility of future joint meetings between the two bodies.

At the conclusion of the meeting, Mansfield said, “I’m not surprised that this went well.”

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