Finding success in our urban schools

On the evening of Sept. 26, the Youngstown State University Alumni Society hosted an event in its lecture series titled “Successful Education Programs in Urban School Districts” at the Beeghly College of Education.

Dr. Lenford Sutton was the moderator for a panel discussion featuring four speakers who have a vested interest in the success of urban schools in our region. The panelists were: Karen Green, assistant superintendent of human resources in the Youngstown City Schools; Michael Notar, superintendent of the Warren City School District; Monica Jones, dean of Youngstown Early College; and Randy Dunn, president of Youngstown State University.

The topics discussed by the panel were wide ranging, and the format allowed audience participation in the last portion. I attended because of my interest in the subject and in the hope that the evening would give me “grist for the mill” in generating a community column.

It was an energizing event.

The panel tackled issues including accountability, the importance of teachers, education and the economy, common core standards, the impact of charter schools, and the relationship between urban schools and their communities. The exchanges were lively, and the discourse was compelling. The questions and comments from the audience were poignant.

I must confess a bias: All four panelists are administrators, and in the labor/management structure of education, I have been “labor” for more than four decades. I have had mixed relationships with administrators. (In my thirty years of full time public school teaching, all in the same district, I worked under more than ten superintendents and at least a dozen principals.)

Despite that, I found these four speakers and moderator to be inspiring and dynamic. At times, there was divergence of opinions, and in other moments, there were admissions of past errors in thinking or action. There were even humorous quips among them.

All panelists affirmed the primacy of students and focused on teachers as being the most important element in delivering education to children. Each of them trumpeted a team approach, and none of them took sole credit for accomplishments. Each acknowledged the foundational work of those who had preceded them.

For me, the highlights of the evening were comments such as these:

Ms. Green’s take on accountability included a reference to the musical “The Wiz” and its dialogue which suggested to her a changing educational “color of the day.” She asked, “To whom are schools accountable?” She would have thought that schools are most accountable to the students and parents, but increasingly, she finds schools more accountable to corporations, to legislatures, and to departments of education.

Mr. Notar spoke with pride about a back to school celebration in downtown Warren prior to the school year. The planners had anticipated no more than 200 would attend, but they were happily surprised that over 800 people participated. For him, the large gathering emphasized the priority of the Warren community in regard to the education of its children. “We’re all in this together,” Mr. Notar stated, and in Warren, that includes breaking down barriers and reaching out to all stakeholders, even parents who may be self conscious about their own learning deficiencies.

Ms. Jones talked passionately about those who teach in urban schools. “Educators must be driven by the heart and the mind to be resource persons for students and important persons in the community. These teachers must delay gratification” (because their starting salaries are not what their classmates in college might be earning in another career).

Dr. Dunn used the quote, “Teaching is the profession which leads to all other professions.” He alluded to executives, who despite high salaries, walk away from powerful positions to become teachers because in teaching they find a deeper sense of purpose. He lamented the current feeling that student loans are a yoke or burden maintaining, “They are the best investment a student can make.”

In leaving the auditorium, I was convinced that all of these public servants are truly stewards in the best sense of the word, and good things are occurring in our Valley because of them and those who work with them.

Williams is a Hubbard resident. Email him at