Southside STAY Group Works To Improve Academics In Area Schools

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Columbus' South Side is home to the organization STAY, an effort to keep families in the area to improve the school district.(Photo: Thomas Bradley / WOSU)
Columbus' South Side is home to the organization STAY, an effort to keep families in the area to improve the school district.(Photo: Thomas Bradley / WOSU)

Tonight WOSU-TV presents the latest in the Columbus Neighborhoods documentary series with a look at the South Side. Once a booming manufacturing center, the South Side later fell on hard times. People moved away to the suburbs. Last year a group of residents got together to try and reverse the population decline.

“This is my wife Beth; my daughter June, she just started kindergarten three weeks ago at Stewart School. And this is my son Jackson,” says Ken Flower.

The Flower Family. Ken and Beth sit with their children, June and Jackson.

The Flower Family. Ken and Beth sit with their children, June and Jackson.

Ken and Beth Flower discovered the South Side’s Merion Village several years back. Now they’ve decided to put down roots here. In June they bought a home on Hanford Street.

“We lived in Merion Village almost three years before moving here and decided we wanted to stay here. We loved this area and loved this neighborhood,” Flower says.

Other young families are also moving in. Long-time residents say they can tell by the numbers of strollers they see on the sidewalks. But what is the likelihood that these same families will stay as their children grow up? It’s not likely says Flower. He knows, because he’s a founding member of the group Southside STAY which circulated a questionnaire about a year ago.

“I think a little over 80 percent said we plan to leave the neighborhood when our kids reach school age with the schools being the factor for leaving,” Flower says.

It’s no secret that the Columbus City School system is failing academically. So the Southside STAY group is encouraging parents to become more involved in the educational process of area schools. Flower says new leadership makes the transition easier.

“Dr. Good, the interim superintendent of Columbus City Schools, has moved the schools in the direction of giving principals more authority; a decentralized structure where principals have the ability to make decisions and to lead their schools and not be as dependent on the central office. We are celebrating that as a group that the principals can make changes,” says Flower.

Danita Turner is principal of Southwood Elementary. She welcomes Southside STAY’s involvement.

Danita Turner, Principal, Southwood Elementary.

Danita Turner, Principal, Southwood Elementary.

“It takes a village. Even here in our building, everyone from our custodians to our cafeteria manager, everyone is involved in the learning process here and that’s the same as our volunteers. So the participants of the Southside STAY program, even though they’re not trained in education, we still need that support. We can’t do it without the support of the community,” Turner says.

Southside STAY members provide tutoring for students who need it. Danita Turner says the focus on literacy helps insure a strong school and therefore a strong community. Another area principal is Ebone Johnson at Stewart Elementary where Southside STAY members have enrolled four of their children.

“They’re all energetic and they’re very passionate. This is something that they want and I know that they’re willing to do the work in order to do it. They’re backing up their word, too. They’re not just saying it’s something they want; they’re doing the work and they believe in our school and we’re working hard to make them proud.

Ken Flower says he knows area schools’ academic ratings can’t be improved overnight. But he’s confident about the future. He believes that by the time his daughter enrolls in South High, that school’s rating will have advanced tremendously.

Southwood Elementary where Southside STAY members have tutored students in need.

Southwood Elementary where Southside STAY members have tutored students in need.

“South High School is historic, one of the first Columbus high schools and overall the school has declined a number of ways, academically being the biggest. State report cards came out not too long ago and I think it received an “F” and we want to see it become an “A” rated high school,” Flower says.

Stewart principal Ebone Johnson says she’s a big supporter of the Southside STAY initiative.

“I think it’s a doable vision and I think with their support and the support of the community if we can get everyone involved, I definitely think that their goal of having A-rated schools on the South Side is something that we can do.

Next month Southside STAY will hold a town hall meeting moderated by WOSU’s Ann Fisher. Columbus City Schools interim head Dan Good and Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman will attend.

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