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Crusade to rescue East pays off

By John Published: October 1, 2010
Area residents walk into the newly renovated East High School during an open house on Thursday in Akron. The school, which climbed a notch in the state report card last year with a new principal, Felisha Gould, not only ended their exile at the former Central Hower building but will be dropping their old nickname, the Orientals. (Ed Suba Jr./Akron Beacon Journal)

By John Higgins
Beacon Journal staff writer

Akron's East High School once slated for closure because of the district's declining enrollment dedicated its newly remodeled building Thursday evening.

The renovation is the first high school project to be completed in the nearly $800 million school construction program funded by the state and a voter-approved city income-tax hike.

The dedication was particularly sweet for Garry Moneypenny, the former Ward 10 Councilman who refused to accept the school board's plan to close East and led a crusade to save the Goodyear Heights school.

Moneypenny's call to arms packed the auditorium with hundreds of supporters on an April night in 2005.

Moneypenny, now the chief deputy at the Summit County Sheriff's Office, was amazed that night to see the students rallying out front with signs and the parking lot so full that he had to park on a side street.

He had a three-page speech ready. But before he could deliver it, school board members called him aside and told him that they would adopt his idea to save East by combining it with the seventh and eighth grades from Goodyear Middle School.

Moneypenny acknowledged those in the audience on Thursday who were there on that April night.

''Even after several people sat me down and said, 'You might want to give up this fight, you're not going to win,' it was you who came forward that night, packed this place even more so than I believe it's packed now and your voices were heard,'' Moneypenny said. ''The school board listened and that's how de
mocracy works.''

The school board liked the idea so much that it adopted a similar plan on the west side to save Buchtel High School by combining it with Perkins Middle School.

The classroom wings for the seventh and eighth grades at East won't be completed until January.

Those kids will finish the year in the Goodyear building, then start at East next fall.

The middle school's sixth-graders were kept at their elementary schools this year, and those schools will continue to be kindergarten through sixth grade buildings going forward.

The renovation project cost $36.5 million with Akron paying $17.6 million and the state paying $18.9 million.

The state has agreed to pay 59 percent of basic costs, but Akron alone has to pay for extras such as additional classroom space for special education.

The East project cost Akron an additional $4.5 million in part because of a redesign to address parents' concerns about separating the new seventh- and eighth-grade classroom wings as much as possible from the high school.

The auditorium, gymnasiums, media centers and career education buildings all received significant renovations along with Internet technology in the classrooms and better lighting, air conditioning and security features throughout the school.

East got a new principal last year, Felisha Gould, who previously was the principal at Perkins Middle School.

East High School's state report card for last year showed enough gains to raise its rating from Academic Watch to Continuous Improvement.

East students did better on the 10th-grade tests in math, reading, writing and social studies than the year before. Science scores were about the same.

But the school still fell short of the state requirement on each of the five tests that 75 percent of students pass. The high school's graduation rate of 74.1 percent last year was the lowest of any high school in Summit County.

East has spent the last three years downtown at the building that once housed the high school the district did end up closing Central-Hower and the students and teachers were eager to come home.

''Academically, I think the kids are now more energized because they have a new facility. There's more pride,'' Gould said. ''They see that we can do 'continuous improvement' so they have a self-motivation, more so than we did when we were at a facility that really they didn't own.''

Along with a newly remodeled building comes a new nickname, yet to be decided.

The school board voted in April to ditch the ''Orientals'' nickname for East's athletic teams, because it is an antiquated reference to people of Asian descent that is considered offensive.

Gould said they're still working on that, but the alumni association and the student body each will nominate new nicknames and there will be a vote.

John Higgins can be reached at 330-996-3792 or Read the education blog at
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