WARREN - Plans are in motion to improve education and safety in Warren City Schools, officials said.
School officials, parents, students and members of the community gathered Thursday to discuss ways to address issues from bullying to special needs to failing grades, and one recurring theme for solutions to these problems was communication.
The forum was hosted by the Alliance for Congregational Transformation Influencing Our Neighborhoods.
One speaker discussed her reasons for deciding to pull her autistic son out of Warren Schools.
"He told me, 'Mom, I don't like being different because no one at school likes me, not even the teachers,'" Nicole Robinson said. She said the boy was being bullied by students, and she said teachers were not addressing his needs.
"My door is always open," said Warren Schools superintendent Michael Notar, who said communication is key to addressing problems in the district.
He also said it is important for the community to know where he came from.
"I worked 48 hours a week all through high school at a Dairy Queen," he said, explaining that his mom had to work very hard to raise him and his sisters by herself after his father tried to kill him when he was an infant.
"It's important that you know where I came from," he said. "I've been there. I've done that."
Notar said the goal for Warren Schools is to create a culture of education to guarantee the success of every student, regardless of income, race or special needs.
Starting next week, he will spend an hour per day in a classroom to monitor classroom instruction, one of several goals the district will implement to improve education in Warren.
Another goal is to adhere to a positive behavior intervention support system by providing positive role models for students as well as intervention when necessary.
"I want input from the community; I want input from parents," Notar said.
The Ohio Department of Education is considering Warren to be the model urban school district for Ohio, Notar said, and next week the district will receive the OLAC (Ohio Leadership Advisory Council) award.
"We have a long way to go," said Melissa Watson, executive director of teaching and learning.
Watson stressed the importance of education in kindergarten through third grade, especially with regard to retention.
"Retention is not my favorite thing," Watson said, noting that passing students who aren't ready is equally ineffective.
This year, only 42 percent of Warren students passed the third-grade achievement test and "that's not OK," Watson said.
Part of the solution is to keep intervention up in early grades so kids aren't so far behind when they get to third grade, Watson said.
ACTION advocate Kim Myers asked how officials can ensure children are not attaching a negative self-worth to the tests, which affect childrens' fates throughout their educational career.
One way the district is addressing that problem is changing the grading scale from a "D" or "F" to an "I" and giving students an opportunity to study hard and make up those grades.
The A, B, C, I scale is taking place at the high school level for the first time this year, and Warren is the only school in Ohio to use it, Notar said.
It lends the opportunity to work through intervention, and students who retake the failed tests can change their grade to a passing "C." This may deter some children from dropping out of school early due to negative perceptions of failing grades, said speaker Dontae Capers.
Notar said the district also is looking at using the scale in grades 6 through 8.
During the forum, Notar also pledged to partner with Warren ACTION Task Force and seek funding to reinstate special needs teachers all day in classes that have special needs children.
"We have a lot of work to do, but we're going to get there,'' Notar said.