Akron Public Schools Superintendent David James talks with WAKR's Ray Horner about the first day of school district-wide.
Thousands of students in Akron had to wake up a littler earlier today ... it's the first day of school for Akron Public Schools.
Superintendent David James says he's optimistic about enrollment this school year, even though afinal head count is weeks away.
"That is always a difficult issue because we never know who is going to show up until after Labor Day, so we'll do head counts this Friday, next Friday and the following Friday and look at staffing in our buildings," said James.
School security is top-of-mind. James says school resource officers have completed some additional training. There is also a new security-related policy that parents will notice if they stop by a school building.
"This year when you go to you school and you want to sign out your child or bring something to your child, we're going to ask to see a photo ID," said James.
James planned to stop by several school buildings today, including Firestone High School and Kenmore High School - both have new principals this school year.
A long-delayed Akron school is ready for students.
King Community Learning Center will finally open this week for the 2014-2015 school year. The school on Memorial Parkway on Akron's west side held an open house on Sunday.
Principal Mary Dean says there are both tech and comfort improvements at the new school.
"Our interactive smart boards, white boards in the building," Dean describes to AkronNewsNow.com, "the ability for the teachers to move those desks around and make tables, to change the learning environment for their students...the lights, of course, air conditioning is very nice, especially this time of year when it's hot and humid."
That's quite a change from the former King CLC on the same site, says retired teacher Debbie Hendryx.
"After summer vacation we would come back and there would be mold on the carpet in the basement, and it had to be cleaned up before the kids could come," Hendryx says. "I taught on the second floor, third, fourth and fifth grade, and it would be in the 90s, up to 100 degrees."
Mark Vopat remembers those days as well. His daughter attended King Elementary and is now in high school.
Vopat's son will attend the new King CLC. At first, Vopat says he was disappointed the school wouldn't remain in the old building. But his mind has changed after seeing the results.
"The fiber optic and the Internet and all the stuff that's already there," Vopat says, "and then you just add on to that all the little details...the lockers in the classrooms, the drinking fountain, all that stuff that's in the classroom instead of out, so the kids don't have to leave."
A number of touches from the old King Elementary were also brought over, such as the terra cotta sign at the building's entrance.
The new King site has been plagued by construction delays. King students have been going to classes at the Akron Public Schools swing site on West Market Street while waiting for the new building.
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Some early state report card results are in for Akron Public Schools, and changing state standards have APS officials frustrated.
Assistant superintendent Ellen McWilliams says the preliminary report card results from the Ohio Department of Education show some good early signs, such as a market improvement in third grade reading results.
"We had 600 students that were at risk for retention at the beginning of the year, and we have that down to 11 students as of today," McWilliams tells AkronNewsNow.com, "and we're still waiting for the summer state testing results back, so that might even go smaller."
But the Akron district fell short of many more rigorous state benchmarks, including in math scores. That means, for example, although the Akron schools' graduation rate actually improved to over 78 percent, the state report card grades that an "F".
Akron school board president Lisa Mansfield says it's tough to explain a state report card "F", which doesn't mean what you might think an "F" means.
"We know what an 'F' is. An 'F' means 50 percent or lower," Mansfield says. "And that's not what an 'F' means on the state report card. An 'F' can mean all kinds of different things depending on what the scale is for any given number."
McWilliams says the Akron district has been practicing for the reality of online testing for math and language arts. She says that'll help when the more rigorous online assessments take hold in the coming school year.
The final 2013-2014 state report card will be issued next month.
The Akron Public Schools have named a new treasurer.
Replacing retired 21-year veteran Jack Pierson is Ryan Pendleton, who has been chief financial officer and chief operating officer for Barberton schools for the past nine years.
Pendleton says that he's focused on how handling the budget relates to student success, no matter what size budget it is.
"Whether it's a $40 million budget, or all funds, a half-a-billion dollar budget," Pendleton tells AkronNewsNow.com, "having the experience to put those resources to work for students is the ultimate gauge of success."
Akron school board president Lisa Mansfield says Pendleton "rose to the top" of a list that started at 27 candidates.
"Try to understand the state funding formula and our constant changes and how they're changing things around," Mansfield says. "I think he'll be a great communicator for us."
Pendleton says as he starts as Akron's treasurer, he'll spend a lot of time getting to know the district.
"I'll understand and get to know Akron's history, understand the treasurer's office and the different departments, and make those relationships," Pendleton explains. "Those are the most important things to me in my first 30, 60 (days), even the first few months."
Pendleton won't officially start as treasurer in Akron until September 1st, but will already meet with his staff starting today.
Akron Public Schools will be looking at spending about $2 million to fill a number of new and changed positions in the coming school year.
Monday night, the Akron school board accepted recommendations of superintendent David James.
Those recommendations include a new dean of students at Kenmore High School.
James says that adding a dean will help the school fix some issues.
"Making sure we're increasing our attendance rate," James tells AkronNewsNow.com, "and also there to help with climate issues as we go into the new school year."
"Climate" is not building temperature, but school district language for dealing with behavior issues...something Kenmore has had in recent months.
Other positions include adding data specialists to support testing, and instruction coaches for English language and arts to support new texts.
James also recommended new gifted and talented program teachers, with more testing unveiling more students who need that teaching attention.
"And because of that increase, we need to have more gifted (program) teachers to handle those," James says, "so that's the reason for wanting to add three new gifted teachers."
The Akron district is moving closer to picking a new treasurer, to replace now-retired treasurer Jack Pierson.
That could come as soon as Wednesday, when four final candidates will make presentations to school board members.
Pierson's last official day on the job ended at 5 PM on Monday. He'll take over as treasurer of the Howland school district in Trumbull County.
Retiring Akron Public Schools treasurer Jack Pierson gave his final monthly report to school board members on Monday.
Now, it's time to start the difficult task of choosing who succeeds him.
School board president Lisa Mansfield says that possible candidates are being evaluated.
"We are in that process even as we speak, we have people standing by, they're going to review some applications with us," Mansfield tells AkronNewsNow.com. "
Mansfield says they'll pick a replacement for Pierson "sooner rather than later", but says there's no rush to find the right person.
"We're not going to willy nilly hire someone," Mansfield says. "We want to make sure that we get someone who's highly qualified. This is a very important decision."
Pierson's last report shows an increase in the district's cash balance, due to lower staffing costs and some more money coming in.
But he once again warned of income being affected by state changes, and the growing amount of money lost to charter schools.
The board picked an interim treasurer to keep the finances going until Pierson's permanent replacement is hired.
Mansfield says the district hears all the time how fortunate they've been to have Pierson at the financial controls of Akron schools.
"When we go places, we've had people say to us, 'you have Jack Pierson, you're in good shape'", Mansfield says. "So, we're going to miss him greatly and he's very difficult to replace."
Four students at Akron's Roswell Kent Middle School are being recognized internationally for their research, and were recognized Monday night at the Akron school board meeting.
The GLOBE Learning Expedition will hear their report next month in New Delhi, India.
Mai Lor is going to India...she'll be an eighth grader at Roswell Kent this year.
She describes the project comparing "heat islands" in urban and rural areas in Ohio, New York and Greece.
"We collected data on asphalt," Mai Lor tells AkronNewsNow.com, "because (asphalt) absorbs heat faster."
Roswell Kent science teacher Steven Frantz says students line up for independent study program.
"I have it for the kids during my lunch break," Frantz says, "and they beg to get into it. I have a line of kids wanting to get into the program."
He says one reason the program is so popular, is that students get to do things like present research at international competitions.
Mai Lor, Hong Ai, Norn Htaw and Wendy Vargas make up the local team, one of just five honored nationwide.
A former APS student honored worldwide continues giving back to the district where he attended school as a kid, before heading to St. Vincent-St. Mary.
LeBron James may have been playing pro basketball in Miami the past four years, but he's certainly been no stranger to the Akron Public Schools.
School board members Monday night accepted the latest gift from the LeBron James Family Foundation - $50,000 to fund technology camps for third grade students.
School board member Rev. Curtis Walker Sr. says LeBron's letter announcing his return to the Cleveland Cavaliers showed his ties to APS students.
"(It shows) what he really thinks about our community, his family, his hopes and dreams," Rev. Walker tells AkronNewsNow.com, "and he has transferred that, and has had an impact on our lives and our students."
Rev. Walker and other board members say LeBron "never left" as far as the Akron schools are concerned.
The board also accepted nearly $200,000 in donations from the GAR Foundation, much of it to help attract more highly qualified candidates to become principals.
Preschool is popular in the Akron Public Schools district - so popular that a closed elementary school is being retrofitted to help handle the load.
Akron school board members heard progress Monday night on work to reopen Essex Elementary to handle expanded preschool.
"We have Stewart (Early Learning Program), so our Stewart site is full, always full," district special education director Karen Liddell-Anderson tells AkronNewsNow.com. "We have preschool sites located in many of our elementary buildings which are very full, very popular with families."
Liddell-Anderson says that there'll be at least 80 new preschoolers at Essex, with expanded state early childhood education funding available for about 100 more.
That's in addition to another 80 at Stewart Early Learning Program and dozens more across the Akron district.
The Essex building is expected to see preschoolers by this fall.
The Akron school board also named an interim treasurer, with the pending retirement of treasurer Jack Pierson about a month away.
Cliff Reinhardt has nearly a quarter century of experience as a school district treasurer, most recently in the Willoughby-Eastlake schools.
He's being brought in to keep the financial part of APS moving while the district looks for Pierson's permanent replacement.
The APS board also approved $450,000 in rent this school year for STEM High School, in the former Central Hower building the district gave to the University of Akron in exchange for college scholarships for APS students.
Several board members winced at the price tag while approving the rent required by the district's contract with UA...and say they would like to see what can be done in the future to use existing district space for the STEM High School program.
Three local superintendents/administrators spoke with Ray during the June edition of Akron Matters, discussing the challenges facing educators in this day and time and what they are looking to improve on to better serve their students.
Ray spoke with Tom Carone of St. Vincent-St Mary, Jeff Ferguson, Superintendent of Tallmadge Local Schools, and Akron Public Schools Superintendent David James.
APS Superintendent David James spoke with WAKR's Ray Horner during the June edition of Akron Matters.
James talked about the challenges of running an urban district and how they continue to look for ways to improve as a whole.
It's the last day of school for students in Akron Public Schools.
"It was a very busy year and it seems like it's gone by in a flash," said Superintendent David James.
What will people remember the most by this school year?
"A harsh winter with a lot of days off and the creation of Blizzard Bags to help kids make up days that were missed."
Despite some negatives, James says there are plenty of positives that make him proud of the school district, including commencement exercises last night at Buchtel Community Learning Center.
"They've earned over - I think it's like a million and a half dollars in scholarships," said James. "One student won $200,000 in sholarships for four years of college. That's just amazing."
Of course, most administrators will not be on vacation for the next couple of months, and James says they'll be spending some of that time tweaking security and discipline policies.