“Rust Belt’s Silicon Valley”
Once a hub of the American steel industry, Youngstown, OH is experiencing an unexpected Renaissance. After the twin blows of manufacturing shrinkage in the 1970’s and the Great Recession of 2008, the city has embraced its scrappy Rust Belt spirit with plans for economic diversification, a reduced but thriving populace, and exciting new developments for the public school system.
Perhaps the most surprising source of new economic development is tech venture capital straight from Silicon Valley. Homegrown startups stand side-by-side with firms transplanted from the West Coast, tempted by lower rents and Youngstown’s unique blend of old-school grit and contemporary development.
In the middle of all this, Youngstown City School District (YCSD) district operates 13 preschools, elementary, middle, and high schools across the city and surrounding Mahoning County. While the tech sector is promising big things for the city, persistent economic inequality still impacts its young learners. Nearly all (99.4%) of YCSD’s 5300 students are economically disadvantaged; 18.7% are students with disabilities, and 4.8% are English Language Learners.
A district in academic crisis
Since 2010, Youngstown City School District has been in Academic Emergency based on failure to meet state minimum targets for academic performance. But while the district struggled with academic outcomes, 96% of its teachers were rated as “Skilled” or “Accomplished” on the most recent Ohio Teacher Evaluation System cycle — among the highest in the state.
“Youngstown is a district that had been in a constant struggle of achievement for over a decade,” says Gregory Kibler, YCSD’s Deputy Chief of Data. “And with that comes a lot of turnover—so basically, we’ve been in this state of new people and new programs without a strong foundation… and it wasn’t enough.”
YCSD administrators realized that to truly level out student outcomes, the adults in the system needed to get on the same page with instructional practice.
The district began pushing for more frequent and actionable touchpoints with the goal of uncovering hidden issues, shifting instructional practice, and creating a culture of efficiency-driven excellence. But the new emphasis on evaluation brought its own problems, with classroom observers feeling overworked and teachers feeling micromanaged.
“Going ‘Here’s some professional development and we expect you to go do it the way we taught you the first time’ isn’t realistic. We really need to monitor what’s going on in our classrooms so we can continue to support teachers. For us, it was just good foundational practices,” said Kibler.