Akron Public Schools continue to ignore city’s neighborhoods, writes Tina Boyes

Opinion, Akron Beacon Journal

Published Feb. 23, 2023

Christine Fowler Mack resigned last week as the superintendent of Akron Public Schools. The previous Friday, without fanfare, I tendered my resignation from her Long Term Operational Planning Task Force. Here’s why.

The task force was billed as a “small and representative group of stakeholders” that would help to design a long-term operational plan that supports academic achievement, health and well being and equity goals while “most fully realizing the potential of our schools as community anchors.”

The group was indeed small, with mostly APS employees attending most meetings, and its recommendations were far from equitable.

At our second to last meeting, the former Morley Health Center was introduced as a potential site for a National Inventors Hall of Fame STEM high school. So was closing more neighborhood grade schools and leaving APS-owned Kenmore High School vacant. This made it clear to me that APS continues to value short-term expediency while giving insufficient attention to the role schools play in strengthening Akron’s residential neighborhoods.

APS’s facilities approach has weakened the fabric of our neighborhoods and people’s ties to both the school district and the city, as parents continue to move their students – and tax dollars – to the suburbs. Nowhere is this truer than in Kenmore, Akron’s second largest neighborhood. Once home to 10 APS schools, Kenmore is now left with a renovated middle school, a trio of grade schools and a vacant Kenmore High School property, located a mere block from where our agency, the city and grassroots investors are doing the hard work of revitalization. Rather than contributing to our efforts, APS is now considering the opposite: decommissioning Pfeiffer Elementary, the only remaining grade school north of Kenmore Boulevard.

Kenmore has felt the district’s shortsightedness directly as two previously decommissioned grade schools, Smith and Lawndale, were sold to someone without the capacity or capital to keep the properties secure, let alone serving as community assets. The buildings were repeatedly vandalized, set on fire and, in Lawndale’s case, razed, leaving behind only vacant land, unpaid taxes and bitter neighbors.

In 2003, APS and city leaders promised to rebuild Pfeiffer when Kenmore and the rest of Akron taxpayers passed a 0.25% income tax increase, which they did. More promises broken, but it’s a familiar refrain. Mere months ago, community leaders asked that Kenmore High School not be left vacant and were tantalized by the prospect of a STEAM school at the site. Not only is it clear the district had no intentions of bringing a STEAM school to Kenmore, it intends to retreat even further outside of Kenmore. Is this equity? Is this realizing the potential of schools as community anchors?

If APS truly believes in “encouraging kindness in our communities,” it can start with kindness to our communities. For Kenmore, that means a functional Pfeiffer Elementary School and a renovated and reused Kenmore High School building.

Mayor Horrigan has gone on record stating the city will not engage in land swaps until APS has a plan for Kenmore High School. Yet, with 10 months left in his term, APS and its Long Term Operational Task Force have no plan. With a new superintendent on the horizon and a slate of candidates vying for Akron mayorship, we ask this: Will you keep Akron’s promises to its neighborhoods? Because we’re mobilized and paying attention.

Tina Boyes is a candidate for Akron City Council in Ward 9.

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