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Akron Begins the School Year with New Buildings, a New Approach and New National Tensions

David James

Akron begins the school year this week with a rolling schedule that starts Wednesday morning.  With upwards of 20,000 students, it is still a big district.  But the city’s population -- and district's enrollment -- decline year-by-year has meant changes. They include a multi-year consolidation of schools, and a different vision for educating Akron’s children. 

David James, superintendent since 2008, spoke of the changes and  how he sees the 2017-2018 school year playing out.

This year is different
“All the events that have happened in our country over the last six or seven or eight months, I think it’s really impacting our kids.

"Whether it's policies coming down from the federal government about education, or who’s saying what on television, we know the adults are talking. ... It’s going to be time for all of all our staff to reassure the students as they come in the door that world isn’t falling apart, and that things are going to be OK.”

Credit Tim Rudell / WKSU
Akron Public Schools headquarters

New directions
With the realignment of buildings, a lot of students, teachers and administrators are preparing for a lot of new schools. 

“The first thing is to get Harris Community Learning Center ready for an open house and getting teacher materials moved over. Getting Garfield moved into Kenmore. Getting Kent middle school moved into Innes. And getting Bettes elementary school moved into the new Harris. So we’ve been busy all summer. 

"But it always comes down to the last few days and getting everything ready.”

Life’s paths
The realignment has to do with adjusting for lower enrollment, but it’s about something else -- career pathways and specialized career academies.

"The real hope behind it is that when kids find a pathway that they will like to explore, and ... that may be a vehicle to  keep them in school, allow them to persist to graduation, and then do something after they leave us. -- whether it’s a two year degree, a certificate program, an industry credential, or a four-year college. 

"And I think it also helps our students develop those soft skills that a lot of our emplorers have been saying ... many of them are lacking. I think that can’t hurt either.”

James says major changes could lead to some anxiety among students as the new year begins but so can broader issues.

“I think there’s just a lot of pressure on our kids today ... whether its missiles being fired by North Korea, or a march by fascists and racists in Charlottesville, you know our kids see that. And they see how their parents react, and they see how their neighbors react, they’ll see how their teachers react.

"And I think it’s very important for us to really collect our thoughts before the school year starts because all of our actions in front of our kids, they see that and it will cause them to feel a certain way.”

Positive leadership from the White House and beyond
“That starts with leadership, whether it’s at the White House or whether it’s the school house, and all points in between. I think for folks who work for Akron Public Schools, we need stand up and have the right message and welcome our kids. ... Are we going to open up our doors and have our kids feel a sense of belonging in a country that has people from all different backgrounds and races in it; that call this place home?"

James says the greater tension has not necessarily impacted school security.

North High School, Akron, OH
Credit Akron Public Schools
Akron North HS

"Akron is a wonderful community and many of our citizens here do look out for one another. And it’s certainly my hope that none of the shenanigans that have gone on in other places are going to happen here -- that we’re going to stay calm and we are going to reinforce the positive things about our community.

"We have a lot of work to do on a lot of different issues. But you know, in our community, it’s very collaborative, and people have come together.”

The career academy program began last year at Akron North High School and will be in all of the city's secondary schools by 2020.