A tribute written by Dr. Joseph Rochford - It was in the wake of a disturbing Beacon Journal article - entitled Akron, Canton Doomed? by Julie Wallace - that one of the most important meetings in Stark County's history was about to take place.
Wallace noted that urban theorist David Rusk added both Akron and Canton to his list of 17 "Cities Past the Point of (almost) No Return." Canton and Stark County, however, were on the verge of trying something that no other city or region in Ohio had ever done. They were forming a preschool through college (P-16) compact focused on concentrating community resources to ensure that all children had the opportunity to go to college.
It was an ambitious agenda at best for any community. The first task was to get as broad a representation of leadership to the table as possible. Who had the credibility to do that? For the Stark Education Partnership and its funders, there was only one answer, Judge W. Don Reader.
On October 24, 2002 Judge Reader held nearly 130 community leaders spellbound as he described a new education future for the county. "Stark Countians have always come together to face the challenges that confront us" he told the group. "Past the point of no return? We have not yet begun, but when we are done we will provide a shining example of how communities can enter the 21st Century with enhanced capital and confidence in their futures."
As a consequence of that conference, Stark County formed what has often been called the finest regional P-16 in the country. Today, fourteen years later, both Canton and Stark surpass the state and national average in the percentage of adults with an associate degree and over the last decade, Canton has led all three in bachelor's degree growth. While wishing to acknowledge Judge Reader's leadership, we know he would have said that the real credit belongs to those who pulled together and made it all happen.