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New staff to help student achievement

7/31/2014 - West Side Leader
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By Becky Tompkins

There will be some additional help in the Akron Public Schools (APS) next year, following approval by the Board of Education of Superintendent David James’s personnel recommendations July 28.

James said at the board’s last meeting he wanted to hire specialists to help the district third-graders pass the third-grade reading test, to improve the climate in the schools that need it and to provide more services to gifted students.

The board members unanimously approved the following positions:

  • a district assessment specialist and a data specialist, to be moved to the General Fund. These services have become more important as state educational mandates have increased, according to district officials. The district has paid for these positions up until now with Title 1 federal funding (for districts with high percentages of low-income families), which has been decreased by $600,000 for next year, and with Race to the Top grant funding, which has just run out for APS, said James. These staff members keep data reports on testing and help to identify the intervention and enrichment needs of the students;
  • two more instructional coaches, for math and language arts. They will work to increase test scores, especially in the new, more rigorous, Common Core Algebra 2, James said.
  • Five literacy specialists, who were formerly paid with Title I funds; they will work with third-graders to pass the crucial test, as well as with other grade-level students;
  • three new full-time gifted and talented teachers. This year’s increased testing identified “significantly more” students who are eligible for gifted services than were identified last year, said James, with the total number of placements up to 320 for next year, he said;
  • three assistant principals and four deans for elementary schools. The demands on elementary principals have shifted and increased, James said, with the principals now expected to spend most of their time in the classrooms supporting, developing and evaluating teachers, as required by Ohio’s new teacher evaluation system. The assistant principals and deans will help with administrative duties to reduce suspensions, increase attendance and help increase math and reading scores; and
  • a dean for Kenmore High School, which has the lowest attendance rate of all APS high schools and high suspension and office referral rates.

The cost of these positions will be more than $2 million, James said. He said he will work with the new treasurer (the board is interviewing candidates to replace Treasurer Jack Pierson, who retired this month) to get these positions into the budget for the October five-year financial forecast.

He said attrition is helping the financial picture, with new younger teachers being hired to replace retiring veterans, and there is enough money in the district’s carryover, unexpended funds, for the new positions.

The board approved numerous resolutions in preparation for the start of school, including many for transportation.

The district provides bus transportation for students in kindergarten through eighth grade who live 2 miles or more from their school and pays an in-lieu-of reimbursement of the cost to parents whose children live too far from the school for it to be practical to transport them, according to district officials.

Also, METRO Regional Transit Authority buses transport around 250 public and nonpublic school students along with approximately 100 charter school students, for whom public schools are required to provide transportation, according to district officials.

Transportation for special education and developmentally disabled children is more complicated, though. The board approved hiring up to 220 independent contractors to transport up to 1,800 special education and developmentally disabled students for this school year. Others will be taken to school in City Yellow Cab Co. cabs.

In one unusual case, the board approved paying tuition and transportation costs for a student with autism to attend Monarch School in Cleveland, at a cost of more than $101,000 for the school year.

Karen Liddell-Anderson, APS director of special education, said the child’s parents sued the district to pay for the private school, contending the child could not get the schooling he needed in APS.

Federal law requires local public schools to provide appropriate schooling for every child’s disabilities, and a mediator sided with the parents, Liddell-Anderson said, so the APS is required to pay for the private school.

The board’s next regular meeting is scheduled for Aug. 11 at 5:30 p.m. at the Sylvester Small Administration Building, 70 N. Broadway St. in Downtown Akron.

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