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Ambition Abounds in Akron Public Schools

Michael Nutter

March 13, 2019

New initiatives are providing the students of Akron Public Schools with greater opportunities for career planning, community engagement, and personal development.

As I’ve covered previously, NBA superstar LeBron James founded the STEM-focused I Promise School (IPS) in the summer of 2018, extending his long-running commitment to supporting the youth of his hometown of Akron. Conceived as a way to better serve low-income and otherwise at-risk students in Akron Public Schools (APS), IPS has been widely praised as a meaningful step toward increased access to education and improved academic standards in the district.

However, IPS is not alone it its efforts to provide better opportunities for Akron students. In his annual State of the Schools address last month, APS Superintendent David James highlighted a number of new initiatives that are being rolled out in schools across the district. Here are some of the highlights.

Preparing Students for Their Futures

Beginning in the 2019-2020 academic year, all 10th through 12th grade APS students will participate in “academy programs” designed to prepare them for college, the military, or the career of their choice.

Modeled after pilot programs at North High School, the new programs will enable students to earn college credits and industry credentials related to their chosen career “pathways.” The 57 pathways available to students have been selected based on the results of student interest surveys and other data that pinpoints high-demand skills and careers in the region.

Offering opportunities in pre-med, teaching, engineering, manufacturing, construction, and more, the academy programs are designed to “[take] academic learning and [make] it relevant.” According to APS Deputy Superintendent Ellen McWilliams-Woods, “It’s all about [students’] applying the skills they learn and working collaboratively and professionally in that environment.”

The APS College and Career Academy Steering Team, whose members are spearheading the planning of the programs, is aiming to expand its scope by establishing new partnerships with local businesses to provide internship, job shadowing, and supplemental educational opportunities to Akron students.

Advancing Out-of-Classroom Learning

In his address, James also drew attention to what he called “field trips on steroids,” a new initiative underwritten by a grant from the GAR Foundation that will send some 8,000 pre-K through 5th grade students on immersive educational excursions.

Thanks to the $1.2 million grant, APS students will have the chance to visit the Akron Zoo, the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, the Akron Art Museum, ArtSparks, Hale Farm & Village, and more. The mission of the trips is to create connections between what students are learning in the classroom and the experiences they have as community members outside the classroom.

“[This program opens] possibilities and expands your thinking about what’s out there and helps your inquiry and makes you think a little bit larger about the world,” says Kirstin Toth, Senior Vice President of the GAR Foundation.

Promoting Personal and Academic Achievement

After James’ speech, McWilliams-Woods addressed another exciting new initiative that’s set to be rolled out across the district in short order: the International Baccalaureate (IB).

Currently operating at but a single public school in Akron, the International Baccalaureate promotes greater achievement through critical thinking, as well as both personal and career development.

“The principles in IB fit exactly our mindset for the entire district,” McWilliams-Woods explained. “And that is…student-directed instruction, it’s integrating content — so you don’t learn math separately from reading and science, but do integrated projects — [and it’s] projects connected with the community.”

Both King CLC and Portage Path CLC are slated to institute IB programming within the next academic year, and there are plans to expand the programming to the entire district shortly thereafter.

Maximizing Opportunity for Every Ohio Student

The district’s new initiatives promise to help every APS student be a more engaged community member and be better-prepared for college or a career of their choosing. But just as IPS’ ambition is not unique within Akron, APS’ ambition is not unique within Ohio. School districts across the state have similarly lofty goals for delivering increased access to personal and academic development opportunities for their students.

To realize these goals, Ohio schools need to secure sufficient funding, a challenge that has become increasingly difficult in the wake of recent statewide budget cuts. Since both state and federal funding depend on accurate data reporting, districts that stumble into even the most minor enrollment errors or inconsistencies risk unwittingly compromising their students’ opportunities for success.

Vinson’s CheckPoint EMIS Platform can play a crucial role in ensuring Ohio schools gain access to the resources they need to position their students for lasting academic and personal success. Through advanced auditing capabilities and a streamlined approach to data collection, storage, validation, and submission, CheckPoint guarantees that educators in every Ohio school district submit complete, accurate datasets to various funding authorities — and, as a result, receive every last penny to which they are entitled.

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