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Published: Thursday, 9/13/2007

TPS asks public for help fixing schools

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER

A month after the state knocked down Toledo Public Schools to academic watch, the district is turning to the public for assistance.

District leaders yesterday announced plans to create a task force to address the district's failing schools - and overall student performance.

Steven Steel, board of education president, said the group would include community leaders, parents, educators, and community support agencies.

"What we are engaging in is larger than just curricular," Mr. Steel said during a morning press conference. "I view this as having the goal of academic success for every child."

Mr. Steel added that the members of the group would "actually be tasked to do things" - so it's not just talk.

Superintendent John Foley said the task force would be charged with creating subcommittees "to engage additional partners as needed and to further the work of the district toward academic excellence."

Several people who have been invited to sit on the task force joined Mr. Steel and Mr. Foley yesterday morning. They included: Linda Stacy, Lucas County Improvement Corp. director of education development; Deb Ortiz-Flores, director of Lucas County Job and Family Services; Sonia Troche, executive director of Adelante, and Francine Lawrence, president of the Toledo Federation of Teachers.

Ms. Troche said she wants to advocate for Spanish-speaking families.

The group will include representatives from Head Start, United Way, the University of Toledo, and Bowling Green State University, Mr. Foley said.

Also on the task force will be district parent Mark Graham. His daughter attends Bowsher High School in South Toledo.

"They have to go after the parents because that is key," Mr. Graham said.

Board members Darlene Fisher and Robert Torres, who attended the press conference, said they had just recently learned about the task force.

Ms. Fisher said she still had several questions, including its purpose, scope, and how it will be sanctioned.

"I feel we need to include a greater range of people such as [representatives from] Toledoans United for Social Action, Lagrange Development, the Catholic Diocese, Lucas County Educational Service Center, and of course someone from the [Urban] Coalition," Ms. Fisher said.

The Urban Coalition, of which Ms. Fisher is a founding member, is a watchdog group that has members who attend TPS meetings.

The group has campaigned against past TPS levy requests.

Board member Larry Sykes, who also said he learned of the task force recently, said the other four board members should have been involved in its creation.

Mr. Torres said the task force would be helpful but noted the TPS schools that have repeatedly failed to reach state standards could need radical change from the board, administration, and the unions.

After three consecutive years as a "continuous improvement" district, Toledo Public was placed in "academic watch" - the equivalent of a D grade in Ohio's five-tier rating system.

Twenty-eight individual TPS buildings received failing grades for their performance last school year - 10 were given F's and 18 got D's - in the 2006-07 State Local Report Cards released last month.

Mr. Steel paraphrased board member Jack Ford and said: "Perhaps the change in state rating is a good thing in that it will shake us out of complacency."

After the press conference, Ms. Fisher pointed out that she and several other people have called for reforms for years.

The first meeting of the task force is scheduled in two weeks.

Contact Ignazio Messina at:

imessina@theblade.com

or 419-724-6171.



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