$300K from County Advances Community School Expansion

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The superintendent of Mahoning Valley Community School is optimistic that the school will be operating out of the former Ohio Department of Job and Family Services building by next fall.

The Mahoning County Board of Commissioners awarded $300,000 in American Rescue Plan funds to Mahoning Valley Community School to assist with the renovation of the state-owned building, 2026 South Ave., which it is in the process of acquiring. An ODJFS spokesman confirmed that the department is in discussions regarding the property, including with the community school, but did not have further details at this time.

County Commissioners David Ditzler, Carol Rimedio-Righetti and Anthony Traficanti and Juvenile Court Judge Teresa Dellick participated in a ceremonial check presentation Monday with Merritt and members of the school’s board at Oakhill Renaissance Place, where the school’s administrative offices and adult program are based.

The school, now operating out of space at Wilson Alternative School and Virtual Academy in Youngstown, is in the process of negotiating a purchase agreement for the JFS building that hopefully will be complete by December, Merritt said.

The space will allow the school to keep up with growing demand for its services, Superintendent Jennifer Merritt said. The dropout prevention and recovery community school now has about 140 students in grades seven through 12, primarily in Mahoning County, she said.

Another program it operates, the Mahoning Valley Collaborative, is a partnership with 15 school districts in Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties that provides educational services for the most at-risk students from kindergarten through 12th grade. It now has about 140 students. The school also provides wraparound services such as health care and childcare.

Additionally, it provides training for industry-recognized credentials.

“We’re a trauma-informed school, and with the level of needs specifically from our districts we’ve had a significant growth in our programs,” Merritt said.

Acquisition of the new building, the first phase of a planned three-phase expansion, will allow the school to expand its student capacity to about 300. School officials specifically wanted to be located on the South Side to help address community violence in that area.

“The community learning center model is evidence-based to help reduce youth violence in the areas that they serve. So we wanted to be on the South Side, and that’s the building that we selected,” Merritt said.

The school does not compete with the public schools or other schools, Judge Dellick said. It fills a gap for “students who do not fit into a traditional setting,” such as those who drop out or are expelled.

“These folks are people who would certainly have fallen through the cracks and now they have a chance with education to improve their lives,” Traficanti said.

According to Rimedio-Righetti, 99% of the school’s students graduate, and about 70% of graduates go on to some form of higher education. “They are just so excited that they have made it to that level,” she said. 

“These are all students that would have been out of school without an education. And because of this school, they’re able to gain entry back to school, receive an education and move on with their life,” Dellick said. “And we all know the number one way out of poverty is through an education.”

Retired juvenile court magistrate Richard White, a member of the school’s board, said he has never seen a group of people who are “so happy and thrilled” to be at a graduation ceremony because, unlike many other children, they never expected to graduate from high school.

The $300,000 in ARP funds will provide just under a quarter of the $1.3 million Merritt estimates will be needed to get the South Avenue building prepared for classes. The school also is in line for a $700,000 grant that will be released once the property transfer is complete. Other funds are being sought, Merritt said.

Phase two of the project would incorporate a central gymnasium complex. Phase three would likely be an addition to the building, bringing capacity to around 500 students, she said. Funding also is being pursued for those phases of the project.

Pictured at top: Commissioner Anthony Traficanti, MVCS board member Carole Weimer,  MVCS board member Dr. Rashid Abdu, Commissioner Carol Rimedio-Righetti, MVCS board member Richard White, school superintendent Jennifer Merritt and Commissioner David Ditzler.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.