After 25 Years, Youngstown Community School Still Growing

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – When classes started Aug. 21, Youngstown Community School had 25 years of history behind it and a new superintendent at the helm.

Michelle Payich, superintendent, arrived this summer from Youngstown City Schools, where she spent 17 years as a teacher and 11 years as an administrator. She is only the fourth administrator at Youngstown Community School, which became the area’s first charter school when it opened in 1998.

“They always had such a great reputation,” Payich says.

She will focus on the community aspect of the school, with a goal of shaping a well-rounded child.

“It’s about building connections and relationships with people that can eventually help them with their entire life,” says Payich, who grew up in McDonald.

The school has about 360 students in  kindergarten through eighth grade and from throughout the Youngstown area.

“We want our kids to come back and be our teachers,” Payich says. “That’s really our goal, to come back and work and give back to the community.”

The size of the school and the fact that students are in the same building through eighth grade, with smaller class sizes, is a big part of the draw.

Ursula Perdue, a board member, sent all three of her sons to the school. Her sons have either graduated from or are currently attending the universities of Kent State, Oklahoma Panhandle State and Fairmont State.

Years earlier, her eldest was attending preschool at the Mill Creek Children’s Center next door, which – like the Youngstown Community School – was run by Sister Jerome Corcoran. Perdue believes strongly in the importance of an education, and she found her ideals aligned with Corcoran’s message.

“I believed in what she was doing to give students the foundation they needed to grow in knowledge,” Perdue says. “I felt like it would give my children the base education they will need.”

Payich believes the school’s mission can continue to reflect Corcoran, who died in 2021. Corcoran dedicated much of her 105-year life to education in the Youngstown area. She was one of the co-founders of the charter school, along with Sister Mary Dunn and the Board of Developing Potential.

“We want to honor her and continue to grow in the model and her vision that she started – to be a safe alternative, a better choice, and to provide a high-quality education with a family atmosphere.”

Perdue says Youngstown Community School teachers care about their students and work hard to improve their teaching methods, meet the children where they are at and include parents in the process.

“The school system’s job truly is to educate, but parents have got to be a part of that. It has to be a partnership. They have to both agree this is what’s important,” Perdue says.

Payich could not agree more.

Youngstown Community School is located at 50 Essex St.

“We really want to promote that small school feeling, where it is a family and we’re all here to help one another and that we’re a support for families,” Payich says.

This past summer, incoming kindergarten students got an opportunity to attend summer classes to get a leg up on the upcoming school year.

“We are devoted to teaching early literacy skills,” Payich says. “We want them to learn to read so they can read to learn as they get older.”

To catch students up, the school uses a lot of tutors.

“We have an amazing partnership with YSU. They’re a huge resource for us with tutors and any academic support that we need,” Payich says.

The school has partnered with other local organizations such as the local United Way and the Youngstown Business Incubator, where students attend virtual field trips and have other learning opportunities.

The small school aspect allows teachers to get to know students and their families better.

“We just try to utilize every resource that we can,” Payich says.

In addition to the basics, students have technology like Chromebooks and study music, art and STEM.

Michelle Johnson, the school’s treasurer, started the year after the school opened and remembers when the school shared space at the Mill Creek Children’s Center.

“When we started with kindergarten in 1998, we had a waiting list so long that we could have added additional classrooms,” Johnson says.

New playground equipment is installed at Youngstown Community School.

The next thing it added was first grade. The school broke ground on its own building in 2001 and opened it in 2002. At first it was meant to be a K-4 building, but then it expanded to K-6 and then K-8, each time at the request of the parents.

“We really maximized our space as best we could to meet our parents’ needs and our students’ needs,” Johnson says.

Last year the budget was $4.5 million, all without additional levies beyond what parents pay to their home school district. Funding comes from state foundations, title funding and grants. The staff has grown to about 50, with about 14 of those support staff. Johnson says some of the educators have been there more than 20 years.

Having a good mix of veteran teachers and new teachers with fresh ideas is a really important combination, according to Payich.

Older ideas such as phonics are coming back. The younger teachers bring the technology skills, and older teachers have a strong foundation.

The Performance Index scores for Youngstown Community School have varied through the years, but Johnson points out they have been improving recently and have always been higher than that of Youngstown City Schools.

Perdue remains on the board. She says she wants to ensure the school continues to value education first and that the children become self-sustaining adults who eventually give back to the community.

“I would recommend Youngstown Community School,” Perdue says. “It’s a partnership. If you want your child to have a great education, a base level education of knowledge and build on it, and you’re willing to be a part of that.”

Pictured at top: Michelle Payich, superintendent of Youngstown Community School.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.