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Community News

APS seeing positives despite new challenges

2/20/2014 - West Side Leader
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By Kathleen Folkerth

Akron Public Schools Superintendent David James unveiled the district’s redesigned website during his State of the Schools speech Feb. 13.
Photo: Kathleen Folkerth
DOWNTOWN AKRON — Enrollment in the Akron Public Schools (APS) continues to decline while the state rolls out new requirements that frustrate teachers and administrators. Still, APS Superintendent David James said the district is finding success despite those challenges.

“Our goal is not just to be among the highest across urban districts, but to be the best district, period,” James said during his annual State of the Schools address to a lunchtime audience Feb. 13 at Quaker Station. “Our children need to compete with all students in this entire region, including our highest income suburban neighbors. Yes, we have a lot of work to do, but we’re already seeing some of our buildings compete and exceed these neighbors, so we have that foundation to build from.”

Among the highlights James noted in his annual Press Club of Akron speech is that the district has been showing consistent gains in reading scores over the past few years. The district outperformed the average of 13 similar districts in every grade level, he added.

In addition, the district’s Akron Early College High School is the second highest ranked school in Summit, Medina and Stark counties, just behind Hudson High School. The school earned recognition as a Blue Ribbon School this past year, James added.

That school and Firestone High School also were named Schools of Promise by the Ohio Department of Education. To earn that achievement, a school must have strong test scores and graduation rates, even though 40 percent or more of its students are considered economically disadvantaged, he said.

James said the school year’s beginning in August was marked with concern about changes to the state’s teacher evaluation system, as well as the way schools are rated on the state’s annual report card system.

“Our challenges far exceed what we do in the classroom,” he said.

Looking at enrollment figures, James said the district saw a 2.5 percent drop in the number of students from last school year to this one. He added he does expect to continue to see declines, but he added the district is not sitting back and ignoring the issue.

“We live in a competitive environment, and our job is to meet the competition head on,” James said.

To address the decline, the district has implemented an advertising campaign, complete with a new logo, and improved the student registration process.

Also part of the strategy is the district’s redesigned website, www.AkronSchools.com, which James unveiled before the audience. He said the site is more user-friendly than its predecessor and will eventually allow users to customize it to feature items specific to their interests.

James also updated the audience on the district’s extensive rebuilding project, noting that the 28th new school building was dedicated last month. He added to applause that King Community Learning Center (CLC) in West Akron will be completed in time for the next school year after being delayed due to changes in contractors.

The Firestone/Litchfield CLC project is underway, but James said initial bids for the construction of the two connected schools came in $9 million over budget, so the state and district are seeking new bids.

James took questions from the audience following his remarks. One audience member asked what he would like Gov. John Kasich to know when he delivers his State of the State address Feb. 24 in Medina.

“Give districts flexibility,” James replied. “One size doesn’t fit all.”

He was also asked about the school calendar and the idea of year-round schooling. James said he has thought for a long time that summer break needs to be rethought.

“There’s so much academic loss that occurs over the summer,” he said. “I support an extended school day and extended school year. How many people have the summers off? Most people are working year-round.”

James also said he planned to travel to Columbus Feb. 14 to address state officials on changes to disciplinary policies.

James was also asked if he would have any luck in persuading the Miami Heat’s LeBron James to return to the region when his contract expires this year. The Akron-born basketball star has been a supporter of APS students through his LeBron James Family Foundation and its Wheels for Education program, which the superintendent praised during his remarks.

“The only thing we share is a last name,” James said. “ I just hope he continues his partnership of working with kids, and that’s fine with me.”

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