Group seeks loan forgiveness, more internships

Dayton has nearly 30,000 school-age children.City of Learners plan focuses on improved educational opportunities.

A plan to improve educational outcomes in Dayton proposes creating a new report card system, more internship and mentoring opportunities, expanded after school and summer learning options and a loan forgiveness program for students who remain in the community.

Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley released a report Tuesday by the City of Learners Committee that maps out five strategies aimed at removing barriers to educational attainment and student success.

“The City of Learners plan is straightforward: We’re going to fix what’s broken and we’re going to improve what’s not excellent,” Whaley said.

Dayton is home to nearly 30,000 school-age children, officials said.

The committee recommends ensuring all of Dayton’s children are offered quality preschool, attend a quality high school, have opportunities to intern at local companies, receive mentoring and enroll in school and summer educational programs.

The plan calls for finding ways to offer and pay for universal kindergarten in Montgomery County. It also recommends creating new partnerships with the business community and establishing a new neighborhood school center.

A key recommendation is reducing loan repayments for young people who are educated in the region or return here after graduating with degrees in high-demand fields.

Whaley created the City of Learners Committee last year, and about 70 local leaders held 11 listening sessions across the city to gather input from parents, families, students, teachers, school officials and other community members.

“There is no issue more important to Dayton’s success than the quality of our schools,” Whaley said. “Today, the difference that separates prosperous cities from declining cities is the quality of their schools.”

The committee recommends creating a “Turn-Around Schools Task Force” that will focus on improving the lowest-performing schools in the city.

The state releases report cards for public schools every year. The task force will help create a new report card system for all schools in the city, including public, private and public charter institutions. The scoring system will produce more in-depth and useful information to measure academic quality and student achievement, Whaley said.

About 40 percent of Dayton’s 4-year-old children do not attend preschool. Most children who attend preschool do so only because it is subsidized and is provided at no cost.

The committee recommends creating a “preschool promise” for Montgomery County, expanding free access to preschool.

A task force will work with the county and other organizations to determine how such a program could operate and how it can be funded. Studies show that students are more likely to reach the basic third-grade reading level and have future academic success if they attend preschool.

The committee said students need skills attractive to employers. One goal is to create more internship opportunities by forming new partnerships with area businesses.

Young people need job experience so they can decide what careers interest them and what credentials they need to pursue, said Dayton Public Schools Superintendent Lori Ward, who served on the committee.

The report also says many young people do not have adults in their lives who can provide vital support and guidance.

More mentors are needed, but they must meet standards of quality assurance, such as being able to pass a background check, the report said.

“Our young people need adult mentors to share how they got through college, to share how they started their career,” Ward said. “This community is going to be asked to come to the table, so get ready, because we need your support.”

The committee also advises creating a loan forgiveness program to retain young talent.

The thinking is that young people would be more likely to remain in or return to the Dayton region if doing so meant their student loan payments were reduced.

The proposal is to forgive a portion of student loans for young people who stay in the county to earn their post-secondary educations or come back after completing a degree in important fields.

Finally, the report says too few young people are enrolled in programs outside of regular school hours that support academic growth.

The report recommends analyzing the accessibility of after school and summer learning programs. These programs give students time to read and study, complete homework and receive tutoring. The report recommends exploring the possibility of creating one new school center in the city.

Whaley said funding for the recommended programs will need to be identified, but money could come from a variety of private and public sources.

She said the committee will produce an update on the plan’s progress in 2016.

The committee’s plan hopefully will increase engagement between community members and the schools, said Allison Mayfield-Brown, 17, a senior at Meadowdale High School who met with the mayor to provide feedback.

“Community involvement is very ideal in the process of developing the education of our students,” she said.

The community needs to make a concerted effort to help students access activities, services and programs that will benefit their academic pursuits, said Mathew Colosimo, 17, a senior at Ponitz Career Technology Center, who also takes classes through Sinclair Community College.

“I hope this report will give the district a precise plan of action, that way everyone is on the same page, and the students are able to readily get (needed) information and be helped,” he said.

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