Thursday, January 25, 2007

can volunteers and technology help to fix the city schools?

In a recent radio interview, Dan Rivers from 570 wkbn (it took years, but they are finally streaming online) was discussing inequalities within the public education system with YSU professor Paul Sracic. Sracic is the author of "San Antonio V. Rodriguez and the Pursuit of Equal Education: The Debate over Discrimination And School Funding", a look the landmark case from about 30 years ago where the Supreme Court ruled that a quality and equal education is not essentially a right guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.

This "right to a quality education" has recently become a hot topic in the Buckeye State, as there are groups pushing to edit Ohio's Constitution to make this right to a quality education the law of the land. Pho in Akron does a nice job of recapping this issue, as well as providing links to editorials and judicial opinions at his recent posts here and here. Really nice work, Pho.

So while this blogger will leave to it the reader to further explore the arguements about the amendment, a central question needs to be answered:

Are there steps that we can take to minimize the existing inequalities?

Furthermore, are there cost-effective solutions out there to avoid what some callers to the show labeled "throwing more and more money into a broken system"?


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So while the following two suggestions may only chip away at small pieces of the problem of inequities instead of solving the entire state's school system, maybe that is the best place to start.

Because even the longest journey begins with a single step.

a - I know a few retired schoolteachers. Thirty years of being in a classroom has not only made them experienced teachers, but also employees who are well-deserving of a retirement.

Some of these teachers however, have gone back to volunteer for free in the schools, if only for a few hours a week.

It's my bet that there are many many retired teachers throughout the region, and a lot of them can still make a difference in children's lives. But instead of placing them in a classroom with twenty-five or more kids throughout an entire school year, is it possible to match a single teacher with a single city school student for two hours a week?

Maybe a neat pilot program would be to create after-school meetings for academically troubled school students matching teachers who may be willing to provide a few hours a week of tutoring, and even perhaps some inspiration and personal guidance as well.

But then, why stop at teachers? Can our region's engineers, artists, accountants and machinists - our region's individuals - provide two hours of mentoring one day, every other week, to one student?

If loads of people can help in this fashion of incremental assistance, then perhaps a unique safety web and source of inspiration can exist for every city school student who needs it.

b - A great organization I had the opportunity to work with in the past was TECH CORPS in Georgia. Their goal was to minimize the digital divide that existed for inner city school children who lack an exposure to computers throughout their lives.

Volunteers would sort through donated and discarded computer equipment, often installing software and performing upgrades before giving the computer to the families of city school students who did not already have one. The organization also provided training for the entire family to learn basic computer skills, skills that are essential to future employment in many sectors of today's economy. That way, the children can work with computers not just during the short time of the day they are in school, but in their home as well.

So then I checked the web if this group is in Ohio. And sure enough, they are. And they can be found at this website.

But the interesting thing is, the group is not statewide. It only operates in 10 out of Ohio's 88 counties, none of which are in the Mahoning Valley.


But they would like to expand their presence in the state! Click here for more details on their long-range hopes for the group.

So maybe the next step is to find out what we can do to help TECH CORPS Ohio expand into our region. To help us get organized in this area, to train volunteers, and to eventually provide students with computers they can use, and to develop a more highly-skilled workforce for the future.

Are you looking to volunteer with an organization? Maybe TECH CORPS is a good place to start, and your assistance will have a big impact on the future.

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The Rivers' show ended with an interesting discussion, asking Sracic what he sees in this region that others who live here are not aware of. Sracic's response was that the Mahoning Valley still has a great sense of community - a tight-knit community that other parts of the country just don't have.

So perhaps this same community can rise up and say "you know, there are just some things that the state and property taxes can't alone solve" and it is up to individuals who volunteer their time which bit by bit, can start to make a difference in the inner city schools.

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quick news note:
Michigan is experiencing some pains at the moment as Pfizer announced it will be closing their operations within the state, effectively laying off thousands of workers. You can read two stories about what happened here and here. It just goes to show how turbulent the economy is sometimes, and the churn that exists even in high-tech industries.

Let's hope Michigan quits losing jobs like these, and instead returns to something they are really good at losing . . .

namely football games.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

two more 2010 mentions, and a new website

This Ohio Sunday is winding to a close, filled with walking on trails through the snow-covered park, followed by snowball fights, and then football by the fire. What could be more exciting?

Well . . there are three new things in Youngstown to blog about.

That's what.

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a - The first is a story in today's edition of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review titled, "Extreme Makeover: City Edition." Justin Vellucci writes about the economic shock to Youngstown following the collapse of the steel industry and the abandonment of many residents and commercial businesses, eventually describing how the 2010 plan is planting the seeds for a sustainable city.

Once you get to the page, click on the Multimedia Slideshow:Youngstown link on the upper right side. There, mixed among pictures showing the removal of blight, you will see some nice photos with dialog provided by the mayor. Especially cool are the ones taken in the middle of West Federal Street, and the shots of Mayor Williams standing in the convocation center's parking lot with the city in the background. (note: I was thinking of posting the pictures here, but a friend who works for the Trib told me their legal department is pretty viscious - so check them out yourself from their page)

The piece ends with a comment by Bill Lawson, executive director of Mahoning Valley Historical Society.

"In a large respect, we lost a whole generation of people my age. ... There just weren't any opportunities here. So, people that I know are gone," he said. "These young people (today) are doing it. The future's looking up."

And on that note, the youth are indeed taking a step forward and being noticed:


b- Thanks to the efforts of local rap artist Shug B, the 2010 project has also found its way onto the Mtv2 channel.

Shug B submitted a video about the local music scene to the television network for their show "My Block". Individuals across the country submitted documentaries illustrating their home city. From this year's applicants, Phoenix, Long Island, Seattle, and Youngstown were chosen as finalists.

The television commercials from My Block, now airing on the network, have Mayor Williams talking about the 2010 program. You can jump to the Mtv2 site here, and then you can vote for the Youngstown video an infinite amount of times.



I thought this "infinite amount of clicking" form of voting was a bit strange, but it turns out Ohio-based Diebold is charge of the voting, so they can be trusted.


Speaking of infinite, here is a link to the infinite ohio shoutout.

Cause as cmoss says: "If a tree falls in the woods, and don't noboby hear about it, will it make a noise?"

"No, motherfucker, it don't." . . . "you gotta let it be known."



c - And from the students who organized the meeting last week regarding the State Theater downtown, a new website has been created. Click here to see their work in progress of the "Friends of Youngstown Theaters". What is especially cool is their still growing list on the left side of the page mentioning all of the theaters in town, either renovated, hoping to be renovated, or otherwise.

I especially like their pictures of the Palace, which was a beautiful building. The developers claimed to build a downtown mall and theater complex in its place, but since its demolition in the summer of 1964 for their project, it has been a parking lot.

Let's hope no more of our historical treasures will see the wrecking ball.

http://www.youngstowntheaters.i8.com/

Friday, January 19, 2007

a modest proposal . . .

. . . from the devil's advocate.

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A news story highlighted in this week's Columbus Dispatch provides a glimpse at the new approaches to public safety that are being considered within the state of Ohio.

The city council of Upper Arlington, a separate city and suburb of the capital, is considering this week to enact tough restrictions on the ability of convicted sexual offenders to be employed within the city limits. According to the story, Councilman Timothy S. Rankin called for "an outright ban on offenders living or working" within the city.

According to the Police Chief Brian Quinn, there are three Upper Arlington residents (out of 34,000 residents) who are designated sex offenders registered in Franklin County. The proposal, which received no criticism from the entire city council body, could become law in about two months.

Councilman Wade Steen pointed to a large wooded area on a city map during the meeting showing where, "predators are more likely to lurk." Current legislation forbids sex offenders from living 1,000 feet from a school, effectively making two-thirds of Upper Arlington off-limits for habitation.

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so here are three things to ponder . . .

1 - Do these laws, prohibiting where sex offenders can live and work, effectively stop future crime?

It suffices to say there are pedophiles throughtout the country with access to both the internet and an automobile. So what is to stop any individual in the country from going here to find maps for Upper Arlington to see where children go bathing in the summer months, or here to find a list of all the libraries in town?

The laws might prevent future tragedies, and they might not. I'm not sure of the answer. But do these policies provide solutions, or just displace the problem?

2 - What if these laws become trendy in suburbs all across the nation?

Perhaps then entire sections of the country could then be "protected" from the peverted nature of these individuals. We could funnel all of our society's problem-makers into our inner cities, or better yet, in one location somewhere outside of the country. David Singleton of the Ohio Justice and Policy Center asks then: are these laws unconstitutional because they can be considered banishment or punitive?

3 - And finally, if we as a society accept these types of laws, can we extend the employment and living restrictions on other criminals who are now out of prison?

Maybe the cities of Cleveland, Youngstown, and Akron should enact a law which prevents any individual convicted of robbery or the illegal possession of a weapon from living in the city. Or Canton, Lorain, and Warren can all support legislation which will prevent any individual found guilty of selling drugs from working within the city.

Or perhaps Northeast Ohio would become a more idyllic place if we can banish any person, convicted of any crime, from our region.

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something to chew on during the weekend.

I by no means have any of the answers, but it will be interesting to see how the progression of laws such as these affect the future development of cities within the state of Ohio.

For if we can't attempt to solve our society's problems, at least we can displace our problems to future generations and other jurisdictions.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

from the mailbag

One of the great things about administering a blog is the constant feedback and dialogue that is generated by the readers.

1 - In the last two weeks, it seems another four blogs with Youngstown-area themes have come into existence.

The Youngstown History blog
http://www.youngstownhistory.blogspot.com

Blogging Ohio blog - with a new writer for Ytown
http://www.bloggingohio.com/category/youngstown/

The Mahoning Valley Voice blog
http://www.MahoningValleyVoice.com

The Defend Youngstown blog - reviewing news downtown
http://www.defendyoungstown.blogspot.com

2 - A nice little policy story by Rob Atkinson, president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, highlights America's response to past competitiveness threats and what should be done in the future. You can download it here.

The piece made me wonder if there are any R&D tax credits provided at a local level. Or if there are any local policies Northeast Ohio can come up with to match his proposals.

At the least, I feel this is a short article that all people - especially public officials and the folks that sit at home and listen to talk radio - should look over.

3 - And a great comment was sent by Anonymous yesterday as a response to the "Printz Mansion" entry:

"Perhaps a tour of some of the homes in older neighborhoods that are functioning and in good condition will give people a view of what Youngstown has to offer and even push some to purchase and renovate. I wonder if this goes on now or if people who own such homes on the north side have considered the idea before?"

I love this idea. When we went on the tour of the north side homes, it was amazing to see how these homes that were so beautiful on the outside were even more incredible on the inside. There were carvings in the wooden trusses on the ceilings, ornate original stained glass, working fireplaces, etc.

So maybe a group like the North Side Citizens' Coalition can take videos of the inside of these homes, stitch together small movies like the peeps at the Metro Monthly did, and post them to YouTube or to the webpage of their neighborhood's organization . . .

Driving through the nooks and crannies of the northside's streets this weekend along Crandall Park, the neighborhoods near Wick Park, and the homes south of the Stambaugh golf course, I heard these homes calling out: "Hey, look at me! We are here! You don't need to build your McMansions and three bedroom houses in the exurbs/suburbs. We are treasures waiting to be discovered . . ."

Monday, January 15, 2007

the state of the state address

Had the opportunity to stop by Cedar's Cafe on Friday night for a community meeting about the future of the State Theater located on West Federal Street.

Here is a rundown of the situation:

According to the myspace page of the meeting's organizers, the State Theatre was constructed in 1915 and is the oldest theater remaining downtown. It was renamed the Agora in the 1970s and closed for good in the 1980s. Since that time, the structure has been boarded up, only to be entered by the occasional curious explorer, pigeons, and rainwater. So for about two decades, this historical structure has deteriorated in appearance and structural stability.


Fast forward to January 2007. The property is now owned by the Youngstown Community Improvement Corporation (CIC), a non-profit entity which maintains control over many of the empty buildings downtown. The Youngstown Business Incubator is looking to expand its operations in close proximity to its main building, with ground broken for an adjacent 30,000 sq. ft. space for its growing companies, and hoping to rennovate two additional existing historic structures on the same block.

Under this scenario, every building between Hazel Street and the Home Savings and Loan Building would then have a plan for future function, with the exception of the State Theater and the Armed Forces building next door.

But what to do with these buildings? Some advocate their demolition so the space can be used for surface parking lots. Others advocate their total restoration. Others advocate a compromise between these two extremes.

And it was at this meeting over the weekend that many of these possibilities were discussed. Questions such as "Is the seating section of the theater intact?" and "Has a day been chosen to demolish the existing structures?" as well as "Is the facade worth saving?" were posed by those seated in the audience.


So based upon statements made both during and after the meeting, here is a quick list featuring a wide range of possibilities for the State Theater:

plan a - Rennovate the entire structure, facade and all, back to operational capacity.
plan b - Demolish the stage and auditorium between Boardman Street and the alley, rennovate the existing portion between the alley and West Federal, and keep the facade in place.
plan c - Demolish everything behind the facade, keep the facade in place, and use it as the front of a new building, pavillion, or public space structure.
plan d - Demolish everything behind the facade, keep only a structurally reinforced facade in place, and illuminate it.
plan e - Move the facade to another location in the city and demolish the rest.
plan f - Demolish everything, save nothing, dance on the ashes.

Maybe it is time for members of the public, the staff at the CIC, the stakeholders of the business incubator expansion, and members of the mayor's administration to sit down and listen to eachother's interests. At that point, it may be possible to estimate the short-term costs and long-term consequences of each of the possible plans.


And to be certain, it was exciting to see a diverse group of forty to fifty Youngstown-Americans come together and discuss the future of our downtown, and hitting the streets to explore the landscape. Of the two people who organized this initial meeting, one is a high school student and the other is a freshman in college. It is a small reminder that in the city of Youngstown, both the younger generations and the older generations have the ability to contribute to its future.

Indeed a receptive audience seems to be out there. Keep it coming.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

new years resolution, er, revolution

I really enjoyed a post last week at the blog Word of Mouth. The author details the "Top 7 Things You Can Do To Help Lorain in 2007" for all to act upon, and you can read it here. With a population around 69,000 and an industrial heritage in steel and automobile manufacturing, Lorain could in fact be a sister city of Youngstown.

But one part of the blog really jumped out at me.

Every time you read the word "Lorain" in the next passage, insert "Youngstown". I did it fot the first sentence.

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If you’re reading the WoM (shout youngstown) blog from some outpost other than Lorain (Youngstown), then you obviously are interested in Lorain (Youngstown) and Lorain’s (Youngstown's) well being. Lorain needs people like you so come back home. We have the lake (huge park), we have seething hot politics, a remarkably inexpensive cost of living and hey you can contribute to the revolution.

Conversely, if you’re reading the WoM blog from a study, bedroom or kitchen in Lorain then you defintely are interested in Lorain and Lorain’s well being. So stay. We need you and your care and your passion about Lorain IN Lorain. Don’t give up. We have just begun the revolution.

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And so the revolution is just beginning in Youngstown.

But it needs your help.

From those both inside and outside the city limits.

We need you, and your care and your passion.

Please go and read the post about Lorain if you have the time. It even has some good links to click on about investment property loans, banking locally, and puchasing property in the city.

and happy 2007.