EDITORIAL: A year of change for York City schools

The York Dispatch

York City schools have had quite a year.

A Jackson Elementary student works on a project in January of 2015. file photo

As 2015 began, the district was being taken over by the state and on the verge of going to a system of all charter schools, pushed by local businessman David Meckley.

The state Department of Education leadership under then-Gov. Tom Corbett had won a court case that took away power from the local school board and gave it to Meckley, the chief financial recovery officer for the district. The district had been in financial recovery for two years, and state budget cuts had taken a toll.

But an appeal by the school board overturned the state takeover, and Meckley left as Gov. Tom Wolf took office in January.

New recovery officer Carol Saylor took on the task of updating the district's recovery plan, the academic as well as the financial side.

The district has taken many steps since then, including looking at a detailed analysis by Mass Insight, a Boston-based research firm that drew up a four-phase plan to overcoming obstacles.

And there are many obstacles. York City schools consistently rank as the worse in the county and in some cases in the state. On this year's PSSAs, less than 25 percent of the students were proficient or better in English, and math scores were even worse. The district offers no advanced placement courses.

Nearly 75 percent of the students are economically disadvantaged, and 23 percent are English Language Learners, while 22 percent are in special education, according to the Department of Education.

Of the more than 5,400 students living in the district, more than 2,000 attend charter schools.

Financially, the district was one of eight Pennsylvania school districts that Moody's Investor Services downgraded to junk-bond ratings in a July report titled "Small Group of Pennsylvania Schools Unlikely to Recover Soon."

And yet, those in the district persevere. The district is putting into place various initiatives based on the Mass Insight plan, including updating curriculum, locking all school leadership into long-term contracts, training for people in key positions, including school board members, and evaluating the district's technology.

They are also trying to change the way the community looks at the schools by improving communication with residents and making sure improvements are noticed.

Most importantly, they are working to put the students first.

"Of course finances are a concern, but these children need to come out of school knowing how to read and write, how to do math," school board president Margie Orr said.

That's the bottom line. If the students continue to do poorly on tests, if graduation rates don't rise, any plans or reports won't keep the district from being a failure.

The district is working hard, with help, to get back on track that will let the children achieve their potential.

For the sake of those 5,400 students, we hope they succeed.