Toledo City’s school-to-work program
by Mary-Beth Matthews, communications manager, Toledo City

A need by area businesses for skilled tradespeople has led to a school-to-work program in Toledo City Schools that is growing rapidly.

The concept is a simple one: Start by giving high school students the workplace knowledge they will need when they graduate then have them work on job sites while they are seniors. Students start proving themselves to potential employers and receive job offers before they even get their diplomas, district administrators say.

The district’s career-technology umbrella covers more than 30 programs designed to help students prepare for a successful future. A key component is partnering with area businesses to provide real-life experience for students trying to decide on careers. Toledo City has six traditional high schools and three magnet schools, which all have some type of relationship with area companies.

The school-to-work program takes the school-business concept one step further. While a program’s scope varies, depending on the industry, the thriving carpentry program at Toledo City’s Waite High School can serve as an example.

Director Rob Materni said the 10-week program allows students to attend school half the day and then leave campus to work with a contractor the rest of the day. The split schedule is available to seniors in the fourth quarter of a school year. Students must meet certain requirements to participate.

“Students gain experience on the job sites and are trained by skilled trades people,” Materni said. “The goal of school-to-work is to get students to start working part time while they are still in school and then transition into full-time employment upon graduation with the contractor that they have been working with.”

Roughly 40 students participated in the school-to-work program this year, a number that will steadily increase as more business partners are brought on board.

Toledo City’s Waite High School had six students participate in the school-to-work carpentry program last year. Nine students prepared for work on job sites.

“We have former students, who range from ‘journeymen’ carpenters to first period apprentices, who are doing very well,” Materni said. “We have at-risk students make up credits and graduate — who may not have if not for this program.”

Waite High School graduate Amberlee Hunsaker admits she was such a student before discovering carpentry.

“I was on the verge of dropping out or just quitting. I didn’t care,” she said. Once she discovered the hands-on nature of carpentry, she “didn’t want to miss a day of school.”

Hunsaker is now employed by Rudolph Libbe Inc., based in the Toledo suburb of Walbridge. It is one of the largest providers of construction services in the country.

“I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for (the school-to-work) program,” she said.

Lowell Metzger, Rudolph Libbe’s director of contracts/risk management, said the company is “committed to helping the youth in our community, so we do look to the area schools for students who are eager and willing to work hard and want to excel.”

Materni said he believes the main reason the school-to-work program has been successful “is that our administration, both at the building and district levels, have been very supportive. … I believe that it is important to allow each individual program to set up school-to-work in a way that is most beneficial to their students.”

Authentic family and community engagement
by Mary Fertakis, Tukwila (Wash.) School Board director and National School Boards Association consultant

The issue of family and community engagement has been a challenge for as long as there have been schools, school boards and superintendents. Unfortunately, a lot of what we have traditionally done isn’t really engagement — it’s involvement. With the rapidly changing demographics of our student population, effectively engaging with families and communities has never been more important.

Let’s start with definitions

The Latin root of the word involvement is involvere, which means to wrap around, cover or envelop or roll or cause to roll. Examples of involvement would be open houses, or what have been labeled as the “feasts and festivals” that schools hold throughout the year.

By contrast, the Latin root of the word engagement is engare, which means to make a formal agreement to contract with, to pledge or an obligation to do something.

Engagement is a federal requirement if a school receives Title I funds. Under the Every Student Succeeds Act, 1% of a district’s Title I dollars must be set aside for family engagement activities and 95% of it must be spent at the building level.

There is a broad range of activities allowed for family engagement, but what is offered must be in a contract developed by the principal and parents and reviewed every year. The contract is the agreement between the building administration and parents about how family engagement dollars will be spent. This contract will be reviewed as part of a school district’s federal comprehensive program review audit every five years.

Changing from an “involvement” to an “engagement” culture in our schools involves a shift in mindset from seeing family/community engagement as an add-on, extra work, burden or separate from what we do to an essential and fundamental part of how we operate.

What does this look like? It starts with the board and superintendent team asking some questions:

  • Is there a shared vision within the community about our schools?
  • Do we know what the community’s values are?
  • Do we know what our parents’ value for their children’s education?
  • Do we know what our parents and community see as barriers to being engaged in our schools?
  • Do we have both family and community engagement policies? If so, are they reflective of the dynamics represented in our community today?

The answers to these questions decide your next steps. The following are excellent tools for gathering input:

  • board study or work sessions;
  • parent, student and community forums;
  • meeting with the families in your ethnic communities;
  • parent and student advisory boards coordinated by the superintendent.

The critical piece of these efforts is how well the board and superintendent are listening to what the community is saying. We need to be willing to hear the answer if someone asks: What barriers are your student or family encountering in attaining an excellent education in our system? It might be painful or inaccurate, or there may be factors you are not at liberty to comment on in public. Regardless, this is a time to listen.

Next, “close the loop” on communication. Commit to your parents and community stakeholders that responses will be given within a certain time frame. Then do it. At this point, actions speak much louder than words.

Share the plan for moving forward and provide ways for parents, students and community stakeholders to partner with the district in ways such as a strategic planning process; creating new policies or making policy changes; establishing committees to work on specific issues; or determining resource allocations through the budget process.

A Cambodian father’s comments at the end of one of our parent forums sums up how these engagement efforts positively impact our school communities: “We come from many different places, but we all speak parent.”

When we come together to speak parent in support of all our children, great things happen.

Mary Fertakis, M.Ed., is in her 22nd year as a school board director in the Tukwila (Wash.) School District. Her district was named most ethnically diverse in the U.S. by the New York Times several years ago.

Community learning centers help revitalize schools and neighborhoods
by Steve Horton, school board services consultant

More than 30 urban school district board members and administrators heard about efforts in Cincinnati to help schools become community learning centers.

Darlene Kamine, executive director of the Community Learning Center Institute in Cincinnati, spoke at the OSBA Urban School District Advisory Network’s winter meeting Feb. 14 in Columbus. Not only has the institute’s work been instrumental in improving Cincinnati City Schools, the concept potentially translates to many urban districts.

Kamine’s work began at the Children’s Defense Fund-Ohio office in Cincinnati when the city was experiencing a population decline. Between 1970 and 1990, Cincinnati’s population shrank from 500,000 to 300,000. Part of this decline was due to a lack of trust in the schools, and it was clear change was needed.

Kamine and the schools went to the taxpayers for answers in what was an impressive and highly successful effort. Using grant money, teams were sent into communities to do fact-finding for the district. Remaining open to feedback and not fearing what the community might say was key to the project’s success. The goal was to learn what was needed and why it was needed.

The community had quite a bit to say. Residents clearly wanted the schools to be more than just a school; they wanted a hub for community activity. Their response was often nonacademic and aspirational in nature. People wanted plays, sports, music and literature.

If the board was going to be successful in bringing people back to the community and into the schools, it needed to incorporate these ideas. The feedback led to the creation of community learning centers, where medical, dental and mental health services, arts, sports and many other community interests are housed within the local schools.

The centers’ success was dependent on many factors. They must be self-sustaining and separate from district operations, offer services and activities reflecting community needs and build partnerships with community organizations and businesses. Developing and continuing those partnerships must be separate from the schools’ educational work.

An independent coordinator responsible for maintaining the partnerships is crucial for success, Kamine said. The position requires strong commitment and energy from someone who can handle criticism from others. A major advantage is that this position can be funded through Title I money. Other needed funding should come from the partnering organizations.

In addition, board support is imperative to success. The board must develop a policy and create a vision for the initiative to be successful. Also vital is allowing staff members to do their work and remain unencumbered by the community learning center’s work.

Cincinnati City board member Eve Bolton said success of the district’s community learning centers had everything to do with the passage of last November’s levy (63%) and the influx of over 1,000 new students in each of the last two years.

The Community Learning Center Institute is a wonderful resource for districts wishing to pursue implementing learning centers. School leaders at the Feb. 14 meeting overwhelmingly agreed that a site visit to Cincinnati City’s Oyler School would be beneficial. To help plan this event, please respond to the short survey in this newsletter.