State of the Schools Address

State of the Schools
Posted on 02/19/2020
Wednesday, February 19, 2020 - Before an Akron Press Club crowd of more than 500, Akron Public Schools (APS) Superintendent David W. James, Ed.D., delivered his 13th State of the Schools address Wednesday, February 19, 2020. 

Drawing, as he often does, on comparisons between his formative years and those of today's students, James reflected at the beginning of his remarks on the changing economy and its effect on teaching and learning.  

"In the 1960s and 70s, a high school graduate could get a job that paid a decent wage and keep that job for 30 years. But, since then, we have seen jobs and companies devolve into shadows of their former selves," Dr. James told his audience. "Huge factories that employed thousands with good jobs and great benefits and retirement plans are a distant memory," he added. 

James used that example to spend a good deal of time detailing the many early successes of APS College & Career Academies of Akron and the transformative mission, as he called it, to revolutionize the way schools in Akron prepare students for what James called "what they will face in the real world." 

As of fall, every APS high school has installed an academy for students to hone in on career and college pathways in a concentrated field of study. "Grads," he said, "have to be more innovative, more critical in their thinking and have a good mix of technical and soft skills." 

James began his address with a brief video done at East CLC with a recent graduate of the Bridgestone Academy of Applied Engineering and Technology as well as a senior. Both young men are benefiting already from Bridgestone's influence and work in the auto service center it helped build right into the school. Zack Smith is a recent graduate who landed a good job with a local Toyota dealership thanks to his academy education at East. Moe Jackson is a senior who has been hired by Bridgestone as an intern at its local auto service center in Kent. 

"The work Bridgestone has done reflects the work done by all of our partners to give our students exposure to the many opportunities that are right here in our community," James said. 

Within the College & Career Academies of Akron structure, not only do students learn from professionals who come into APS to work with students but students often go on intensive field trips to the businesses and organizations involved and get hands-on learning with their partners at their place of work. 

"At APS," James told the crowd, "we say we are connecting community to the classroom. With support from Ford Next Generation Learning (NGL), United Way, GAR Foundation, ConXus NEO, Summit Education Initiative and the Greater Akron Chamber, we have created a model where all APS students will have the opportunity to fully explore their career aspirations before they leave high school. 

In the past three years, APS has ramped up the number of career expos it produces for its students and has seen participation from more than 300 businesses and community partners in the career expos. 

Chief Academic Officer and Assistant Superintendent Ellen McWilliams-Woods, Ph.D., calls it an intensive approach. "David has set the bar high for all of us. So has Ford NGL and our partners. Expectations for success are high because the stakes are high for our students. We have seen exciting amounts of success already, even with the newness of the project." 

James pointed out that achievement at North High School, Akron Public Schools first academy that began three years ago as the pilot project, has seen encouraging improvement. Reminding his audience that North is among Ohio's most diverse schools, where 47% of the students are English Language Learners and many are refugees from around the globe, James said he is seeing "impressive academic growth" compared to the years prior to the engagement of the academies. 

Comparing test scores from 2016-18 on seven different end-of-course exams saw results improve anywhere from 26% to 75%. There was improvement in each test category.

In the balance of his time, Dr. James talked about: 
  • the new Ellet CLC that opened this school year and its football field, provided by the Cleveland Browns
  • third-grade reading and high school graduation rates climbing under partnership with United Way of Summit County and its Bold Goals #1 and #2
  • Project GRAD's assistance in awarding more than $2M in scholarships to Buchtel CLC graduates 
  • Stay in the Game, a partnership with the Browns to improve classroom attendance
  • the newest and last community learning center is on the drawing board to be done for the Kenmore and Garfield communities by late summer of 2023 

David W. James concluded his remarks with a brief mention of his feelings about a school levy. "We have gone longer than almost any district I know without asking for a levy. But I feel the time is growing close," he said. "But that decision," James said, "will be up to our board. It is a decision no one takes lightly." 

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