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#036;7 million coming to Ironton schools

A multi-million-dollar school construction plan and a $7 million college readiness grant kept the Ironton Board of Education smiling Monday night.

Tuesday, November 23, 1999

A multi-million-dollar school construction plan and a $7 million college readiness grant kept the Ironton Board of Education smiling Monday night.

"I’m very excited," board member Rayetta Waldo said. "With the 150th anniversary (of the school system), this gives us a new opportunity to look forward."

The district received its "master plan" last week from the Ohio School Facilities Commission – a report that allows renovation of the historic high school instead of replacement.

And high school principal Larry Stall announced the system was awarded $7 million for the next six years in the U.S. Department of Education’s Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP) grant program.

Ironton will work with a Cleveland area school district – the only other one in Ohio to receive the same award – to eliminate barriers that hinder students from completing high school and from moving on to college or technical schools, Stall said.

"This is a lot of money to improve access to college and an outstanding opportunity to move our community forward," he said.

Junior high principal Jerry Watson called grant plans "progressive involvement" for students and colleges.

"It makes students and parents and the community aware of opportunities after graduation," Watson said.

It also brings more money to bear on teacher training, curriculum development and student counseling, he said.

Board members said the new grant will improve students’ futures as much as the state’s plans to put new schools in Ironton.

"We’re very happy with the plan, especially the refurbishment of the high school," board member Kathy McGinnis said. "My interpretation is it will be a completely new school inside and remain the same outside."

B.J. Hannon said he and fellow board members had kept their fingers crossed, and are relieved.

"But what kind of problems will that pose for classes and what kind of plans do we have to make?" he asked, smiling. "That’s a great problem to have, though."

Superintendent Steve Kingery reviewed OSFC plans, which include refurbishing the middle and high schools and building a new elementary building.

Once the OSFC gathers more information about local property values and the state’s available construction dollars, final funding approval should follow, Kingery said.

The district will know sometime between April and June next year, he said.

But the district cannot wait until August to begin planning, or to start a bond levy campaign, so readiness should begin now, he added.

Kingery asked the board to approve three advisory councils for school construction – one for businesses, one for parents and community members, and one for school employees.

The superintendent also sought permission to establish selection criteria for architects and to advertise for firms to submit qualifications.

Board members voted unanimously in favor of both measures.

Mrs. Waldo suggested a slogan for its future plans, like "Make the Dream Come True," to spur community support, even from those without children in school.

"I certainly would have every hope and expectation that the community get completely behind this effort for the future," she said. "It will not be a success without the community."

New Ironton board member Robert Pleasant, who will take his seat Jan. 1, agreed with the direction in which new school plans point.

"It’s certainly an exciting time to come onto the board," he said.

While Stall looks forward to new hallways, walls, classrooms and utilities at the high school, renovations almost pale to the opportunities that the GEAR UP grant will bring, he said.

The program will follow an entire class from junior high to senior status with support services, literally gearing them up for success then and after graduation, Stall said.

For example, grant dollars can bring tech-prep to the schools, help students with financial aid counseling, pair students with businesses and on-the-job instruction, develop advanced math classes, provide extra counseling, and bring more teacher resources and materials into school buildings, he said.

The program also focuses on getting students and their parents ready – academically and financially – for study after high school.

The grant will employ at least two, maybe three, new staff members to conduct specific portions of the program, Stall said.

The Ohio Board of Regents will administer the grant, and share Ironton’s ideas with the rest of the state through the Ohio College Access Network.