The Tide is High, cont.

Superintendent David James shows his district's watermark.

No school closures — probably. No layoffs — unless enrollment drops,                       and you’d have to be a crazy superintendent to put a levy on the ballot this year or the next — maybe not even after that. And although the district won’t have a budget deficit in 2011, there’s still a rising tide of financial trouble out there that threatens to engulf Akron schools when $31 million in stimulus funding expires. So far, though, no worries. The district has closed 13 buildings so far and Superintendent David James and the teachers union are agreeing on enough things that the district’s overall state rating has gone up an indicator, which gives it an even firmer hold on last year’s Continuous Improvement rating. Individually, schools withing the district are doing even better, jumping two categories at a time.

Nobody’s hair is wet, but James, with one hand under his nose, acknowledged that he’s there’s still a rising tide to watch.

“It’s kind of like being in the swimming pool and you’re nose is  right here at the water line. There are so many things going on, and people are working so hard, plus we have to enter into negotiations with our unions, and we don’t have any money, just for the record.”

James’ said the district has appointed leaders and committees to work on the five goals he set for the district last year, which are (I’ve paraphrased out the eduspeak)

*Providing good teachers and teaching methods

*Finding, training and hanging onto good teachers.

*Creating relationships with students, their families and the community.

*Keeping schools safe

*Finding enough money to operate and not blowing the money schools have unnecessarily.

Specifically, James said much of the  stimulus money was used on K-2 literacy, with the goal of bringing students to reading proficiency by the end of second grade.

High quality subs have been hired to cover for teachers when they are in professional development and the union and the district have agreed those teachers will voluntarily be cut when the stimulus funding ends. By the fall of 2012, James said the first 9th graders to graduate from Akron’s Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) middle school will have a STEM high school to attend. He’s also committed to finding a way to reprimand students without taking them out of class.

“I have learned that Zero Tolerance is making children fall behind,” James said. “Personally, I think we need to get to the root of the problem …before we give them vacations, I mean, suspensions. We’re only setting them up for failure.”

Meeting last year’s goals, and setting new ones is no easy trick for an urban district that has closed four elementary and middle schools and dropped to 23,200 children (down 600 students — and the money that goes with them) in just the last year.

James said he’s still committed to neighborhood schools. “I’m in a balancing act,” he said. “I have to balance where the enrollment is and where the enrollment isn’t.” -KH

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