What issues come to mind when you look at the future of the Akron Public Schools? Security? Enrollment? Education tools? The January edition of Akron Matters looks at all of these issues and more.
Lisa Mansfield, the Akron School Board President, School Superintendent David James, Akron Education Association President Pat Shipe, and Akron Beacon Journal education reporter Doug Livingston examined these topics, and one of the first that came to mind is how to increase enrollment given the changing landscape of education.
Doug Livingston said the unique challenges the APS is facing are no different in any other urban district in terms of enrollment, discipline, and other issues.
"I think we're starting to see a lot of movement on some of those aspects, and there's still some unanswered questions," Livingston said.
Superintendent David James says being creative with how the district is marketed to both students and parents in an era where there's more education options than ever is key.
"We need to look at how our potential customers and how our existing customers think," James said. "There are a lot of options out there, we're in a very competitive environment."
He spoke about the new way of learning with online schools, and other evolutions in education over the years.
AEA President Pat Shipe called there are many issues, namely enrollment, is one the district needs to take a serious look at.
"If we don't have those bodies in those seats, that impacts all other issues," Shipe explained.
"It's just a matter of discussing the details."
Lisa Mansfield, the APS School Board President spoke about some of the challenges the district faces as well, saying APS has to be progressive and willing to adapt to today's student.
"There's an expectation, there are choices (in terms of education), so we have to compete with those choices," Mansfield said.
"We can't just have you sit in a desk, all day, this is a different generation."
With Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day coming Monday, race relations are at the forefront of the discussion, and four students from the Akron Public Schools gave their respective viewpoints on race, prejudice, and coming together.
Nina Wescott, an African American senior at Firestone High School said that after the incident in Ferguson, Missouri between an officer and a black teenager, some people's true feelings were shown inside the school walls from both blacks and whites alike.
"After seeing Ferguson, it was you kind of saw how everyone felt about black people, or people who were not like them," she said.
Nina said she has a variety of friends, both black and white, and discussion of the Ferguson case came up often shortly after it happened.
"With my friends that are black, they were more willing to talk about it and talk about it with me, my friends who are white, they would ask me a lot of questions about how I felt about it, and it was like they didn't want to share their own opinion for fear that they would offend me."
Pierce Jordan, a senior black male at Firestone HS, also spoke about the issues in Ferguson, and discussed peaceful protests he participated in response to racial issues in the United States.
He felt like some of his fellow students weren't all that serious about the protests and the situations that have been occurring.
"I feel there wasn't really too much support from everyone at Firestone when we were protesting," Jordan said.
Marissa Mariner, an African-American student at the STEM school says that the hallways at the school, there was no real in-depth discussion about the racial tensions.
"I just think that a lot of people discussed it at home, and not at school, " she said.
APS Student Romi Qaqish, a senior student at Firestone High School, who is of Middle Eastern descent, says that race relations in the news have got his attention.
"I don't really see racisim," Quaqish explained. "I've attended Akron Public Schools since since I was a child, and once you begin to know someone as a friend, you see them as you see yourself, you see everyone as one big family, and you understand their points."
After serving as athletic director for 12 years and working with the Akron Public Schools for 18 years, Joe Howard is retiring at the end of January.
Howard says he will relax with his family now that he will be retired, and he's proud of the way Akron Public Schools, their athletes, coaches, and administrators have been mainstays in the community.
Always humble, Howard said the experience of being AD for the schools has been one of the highlights of his life.
"We have good kids, we have good schools, and we have good coaches, so I would like to think I'm leaving (the job) in good hands for my predecessor," Howard said.
A man who's been linked with school sports in Akron for nearly two decades is retiring.
Joe Howard is retiring as Program Manager for Athletics for Akron Public Schools at the end of this month.
Howard says that after a long run at APS, it's time to move to the next stage in his life.
He says a job like his involves a lot of both "day and night" work.
"After 12 fantastic years with the Akron Public Schools," Howard tells WAKR.net, "I can honestly say that even through good times and bad times, it's time for me to move on with my life and enjoy some time with my family as well."
Howard has worked for the Akron district for a total 18 years. He retires on January 30th.
January is National School Board Recognition month, and a pair of local school board leaders joined the show to talk about what led them into that path, and how their leadership has translated into better school districts for our children.
Akron Public School Board President Lisa Mansfield joined the Ray Horner Show to discuss how she was looking to serve her community, saying that she wanted to help parents navigate though problems and concerns.
She says the parents need a liaison, because with a big district like Akron, with over 20,000 students and over 4,000 employees, parents and guardians need to be put in contact with that department or person in case there is a problem.
Bob Campbell, the Green School Board President talked about the role of a school board member in a community.
"Our job is to make sure the public's voice is heard," Campbell said. "We're the ones elected by the community to communicate those needs to the district."
Lisa Mansfield of Akron Public Schools talks to Ray Horner about making the sidewalks a more safe place for children walking to school.
Soccer playing robots stole the show Saturday at Firestone High School.
The high school hosted the 5th annual Middle School Robotics competition, where students spent the day building robots to play in elimination soccer matches against each other.
Dan Spak, Firestone High School teacher and director of Project Lead the Way, organizes the annual event and has seen it grow over the years.
"When we started this five years ago, we had 8 teams, 3 schools. Now we have 7 schools and 19 teams. It's huge," says Spak.
This year's competition focused on getting girls involved in engineering. The group worked with Women in Engineering to help formulate the teams.
The effect of the event on its participants is evident in high school freshman Vi Truong, who participated in the event last year.
"I was never really into engineering because I thought it was so male-dominated," says Truong, who now has a goal to work in aerospace engineering. "After I went to this event last year, it really changed my perspective of that."
Project Lead the Way, a national organization founded in 1997, works to prepare and engage high school students for careers in engineering. Firestone's chapter of Project Lead the Way, started in 2003, organized the event.
In 2012, the school was listed as a model school in Ohio for Project Lead the Way.
Spak is proud and enthusiastic of the organization's success in Akron. He's got the numbers to prove it, too.
"To date, I've graduated my first graduating class in 2007," says Spak. "As of today, I have 64 confirmed engineers based on this program."
Akron School Board President Lisa Mansfield and board member Bruce Alexander spoke with WAKR's Ray Horner and morning news anchor Chris Keppler about the 5 of 8 rule, which has been a big topic of conversation as of late.
There is currently a proposal to eliminate the mandatory staffing levels for school districts to hire five full-time teachers for eight different areas, such as physical education teachers, art teachers, and music teachers, for every 1,000 students.
Both Mansfield and Alexander attended the Capital Conference in Columbus earlier Tuesday with various other school board members and superintendents who came together to discuss the 5 of 8 rule, among other items.
Numbers about the Ebola situation in Summit County are easy to find, but the Akron Public Schools are making those numbers easier to understand.
APS deputy superintendent Ellen McWilliams and head of elementary education Mary Kelly sketched out a "teaching tool" of concentric circles.
APS communications director Mark Williamson says it was made into a graphic that shows in visual terms how the Ebola situation in Akron affects the area and the schools.
"Exactly how many people, what state they're in in terms whether they're being monitored, whether the health department knows about them," Williamson explains, "are they part of our school system, do they live in the county."
Williamson says the graphic is much easier to grasp than a lengthy, wordy document.
"We need some teaching tool for this, which is what teachers do," Williamson says. "They think of ways to convey concepts and ideas without having to write 700 words in a document."
The Akron district has a section with Ebola information on its website.
Michael Keane, the North High Boys Soccer Coach, spoke with WAKR's Ray Horner Tuesday afternoon.
The Vikings won their first playoff soccer match against Benedictine recently. It was their first playoff victory in nine years, and despite being eliminated from the playoffs, Keane praised his team's work ethic and dedication throughout the season.
He also spoke about the many international students that make up the team, and he said that no matter if their first language was English, or something else, the universal language was teamwork throughout the season.