History & Background
The founding of the Stark Education Partnership was announced on July 13, 1989, by Richard A. Gulling, the organization’s first chairman. Known then as The Education Enhancement Partnership, the new Partnership represented the spirit of Stark County’s leadership in responding to a clear need identified in two studies in the late 1980’s. The data revealed that while districts were high performing for their design, they needed additional community support to meet the challenges of the 21st century. The Timken, Hoover, Deuble, and the Stark Community Foundations endowed the organization insuring that it would serve the community as long as needed.
Now, nearly 30 years later, SEP is still serving the community while its evolution and successes can be divided into three distinct periods.
The initial focus of the Partnership, under the direction of Victor Young, was on professional development and best practices in ten specific areas. A Staff Development Council, including all county superintendents and association heads, was formed. A public fund raising campaign for $2.8 M was held, and the first program staff was hired. Math, Staff Development, and Science and Economics Councils were formed. The Timken Foundation pre-funded Saturday Schools and Small Grants Initiatives. By 1993, the first Arts Academy was held, Saturday Schools grew to 17, the VIP in Science program was developed, and a new Technology Council was formed. The elementary science pilot program, Science Education Enhancing the Development of Skills, (SEEDS) began. That year the National Science Foundation awarded Stark County the largest local grant in Ohio history ($3M) to the SEEDS program. The Early Childhood Council leveraged state funds to form the Stark County Family Council, the Technology Council leveraged two of the original seven state SchoolNet pilots for Stark County; work began on Science and Math on the Move (SAMM) and 400 teachers were trained through the Technology Council. SEP at this point was a large, but conventional, partnership with over 400 volunteers on working councils and programs.
In late 1994, Dennis Gray succeeded Victor Young and the focus shifted from broad based programs to reform at the single school level. The second public fund raising campaign for $2.5 M was conducted. The Partnership’s participation in Project AHEAD in Massillon began. In 1997, the Timken Foundation awarded $10 M to Canton City Schools to establish the Timken Regional Campus with the Partnership serving as the fiscal agent and program advisor. The third public fundraising campaign, conducted in 1999, raised $1.8 M. Beginning in 2000, new collaborations were formed through the Community Schools Think Tank resulting in Choices High School and the Early Childhood Center at Canton City Schools. The name of the Partnership was changed to Stark Education Partnership, Inc.
In 2001, Dr. Adrienne O’Neill was named President and a new collaboration was formed with the Stark County Educational Service Center. Grants-in-kind of SEP staff time were made to school districts for a variety of projects; the “Stark County Theory of Action Model” was developed by collaborative teams and endorsed by all superintendents; the Partnership adopted a new strategic plan; and the Stark County P-16 Compact was formed and soon recognized as a state and national model. Stark’s P-16 included leaders from Preschool, K-12 and higher education, foundations and business. Action elements of the P-16 Compact were implemented as the Partnership, now an education reform support organization, served as an advocate, broker, convener, educator, and researcher. This was the transformation era of collaborative “breakthrough” strategies.
“All students can learn at high levels with proper support” became the foundation of SEP support of collaborative strategies including Canton Timken Early College High School; the implementation and reporting of dual credit opportunities in all 17 districts; and major grants including the Ohio High School Transformation Initiative at McKinley; the $7.5 M Math and Science Partnership grant from the National Science Foundation; college access support in urban high schools; and the highly collaborative Straight A grant for the Young Entrepreneur’s Consortium.
A shift in thinking about “what students can do and when” fostered the collaborative development of dual credit (courses earning high school and college credit) offered at the high school and eliminating the need for students to lose time to travel to college campuses. A successful SEP grant proposal to TG provided over 40 Stark County teachers with the opportunity to take additional college coursework to qualify as college adjunct professors.
SEP’s success has been a result of intentional collaboration with the community. Equally vital has been SEP’s role in keeping the community informed on education issues and in the monitoring of key data elements such as dual credit, Canton Timken Early College High School, SPARK, Olweus and other indicators that portray the educational health of the community. Without such data, progress cannot be tracked.
During this collaboration and P-16 era, three high-level objectives were developed and measured – high school graduation rates, college-going rates, and degree attainment rates. Data from the National Student Clearinghouse Student Tracker (funded by a TG grant written by SEP) demonstrated that these collaborative strategies resulted in significant progress in Stark County public school districts:
- High School Graduation Rates (2005) 67%-99% (2014) 83-99%
- College-Going Rates (2005) 51% (2013) 67%
- Degree Attainment Rates (2012) 18% (2014) 37%