Hearing a story of adversity from an economically disadvantaged student from a broken home, Richard Ross — the head of the Ohio Department of Education — harkened back to his own high school experience when his father passed away during his senior year and he considered not attending college.
He took a moment to tell the student what a quality education is worth.
“Salvation. Salvation is what it is,” Ross said during a visit to Akron Early College High School, one of 37 schools statewide recognized for excellence in the face of adversity.
In all, the Ohio Department of Education recognized 13 local schools and 150 statewide on Wednesday for excelling academically while serving large numbers of impoverished students. Two local schools, Avondale and Akron Early College, received an additional, more prestigious honor for maintaining academic excellence for five years.
Last month, Akron Early College received the National Blue Ribbon Award, a coveted accolade from the U.S. Department of Education last given to an Akron public school in the mid-1980s. The Early College, a partnership between the University of Akron and Akron Public Schools, admits 100 freshman to the UA campus each year through a selective application process. Students must be the first in their families to attend college, a factor that draws disadvantaged students from every corner of Akron.
“Your school is known for serving students from every walk of life,” Ross said, noting that 80 percent of the program’s graduates left high school with an associate’s degree in hand.
The celebration at Akron Early College was attended by State Board of Education members Bryan Williams and Sarah Fowler, as well as Akron schools Superintendent David James and his staff. Stan Silverman, a UA professor, also praised the program he helped start nearly 10 years ago.
Before rushing over to Akron, Ross took a 90-minute tour of Avondale Elementary in the Plain school district in Stark County.
Avondale is also among the handful of high-poverty schools that have consistently performed well on state tests.
“It does speak volumes to what our teachers are doing. They have high expectations,” said Brent May, superintendent of Plain schools.
May has been a vocal proponent of engaging parents and community to combat poverty and societal issues that stifle learning but are largely beyond a teacher’s control. His students, May said, are as diverse as the issues they bring with them.
“We don’t pick the kids that come into these buildings,” May said. “That’s the benefit of public education. We take all kids and we teach them.”
Doug Livingston can be reached at 330-996-3792 or firstname.lastname@example.org.