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School address highlights progress

By John Published: February 4, 2011
Akron Public Schools superintendent David James delivers his State of the Schools to the Akron Press Club at the University of Akron's Martin Center on Thursday in Akron. (Phil Masturzo/Akron Beacon Journal)

By John Higgins
Beacon Journal staff writer 


Akron schools superintendent David James began his third State of the Schools address on Thursday by noting that 370 suburban families enroll in Akron Public Schools. 

This includes 41 students who live in the Copley-Fairlawn school district. 

James did not explicitly mention the much-publicized Kelley Williams-Bolar case in his address to the Akron Press Club, though it was the subject of the first question afterward. 

''I have no hard feelings against anyone,'' James said. ''I won't comment on that case specifically, other than to say, we're moving forward. We had nothing really to do with that case initially.'' 

He issued a stronger statement earlier in the day aimed at those who have concluded that Williams-Bolar enrolled in Copley-Fairlawn because she was dissatisfied with the quality of Akron schools. 

She has said repeatedly that she wasconcerned about the safety of her West Akron neighborhood, not the quality of her neighborhood schools. 

''We welcome fair competition and sound criticism, but we will prove unfair and uncommitted critics wrong,'' James said in the statement.  

He focused his State of the Schools speech on the district's accomplishments in the last year, including: 

• The completion of new or renovated school buildings for Portage Path and Leggett elementary schools, the National Inventors Hall of Fame middle school and East High School. 

• The deployment of 34 literacy teachers in kindergarten through second grade. 

• An application for President Obama's ''Race to the Top'' school reform initiative that the U.S. Department of Education has described as one of the best, according to state superintendent Deborah Delisle. 

Akron will receive $9 million over the next 31/2 years. 

The district will use the federal money to: 

• Develop innovative methods to recruit, assign and support ''highly effective'' teachers and leaders in low-performing schools. 

• Expand problem-based learning techniques developed at the National Inventors Hall of Fame School to other middle schools, beginning with Hyre Middle School and the Akron Opportunity Center. 

• Create a new annual staff evaluation system tied to student performance. 

''It's not just teachers,'' said James after the speech. ''It's also administrators and the superintendent. All those evaluation tools are going to be looked at for revision.'' 

Student performance could be measured by state test scores, but it won't be limited to that. 

''It could be state tests,'' James said. ''It could be how they do on their outcomes with classwork. It could be a portfolio situation.'' 

He said that the evaluations will not affect teacher tenure or pay, however. 

''That will be probably something that happens with the legislature,'' James said. ''Our focus is on the actual tool for evaluating the teachers themselves.'' 

Speaking of the legislature, James also addressed the anxiety felt by many government officials in the room at the Martin University Center what will happen with the new state budget. 

''While winning access to [things] like President Obama's 'Race to the Top' initiative is a great victory, it does not provide a permanent source of funding,'' James said. 

Gov. John Kasich's two-year budget is due March 15 and must address an $8 billion shortfall. 

''As we learn more about the governor's plans to balance the state budget, we won't stand by idly,'' James said in his speech. ''We pledge to scrutinize every facet of our district to find additional, unprecedented ways to cut costs. And to be frank, everything has to be on the table.'' 

Last year, James pledged not to ask voters for a new property tax levy. He made no such pledge this year. 

''Right now I don't know what to do until we hear more from the state,'' James said after the address. ''We'll be looking at our finances moving forward, but it would be pure conjecture right now. We just need more information.'' 

He said changes in other state programs could also affect Akron's budget. 

''It's not just the money we get from the state,'' James said. ''We provide some Medicaid services and get reimbursement. That could change and that could adversely impact us. It is a complicated process.'' 

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