CUYAHOGA FALLS — Schnee Learning Center received a state visit Nov. 28 from Ohio’s school leader Paolo DiMaria.
The state superintendent and other administrators were given a tour of Schnee, which serves as a "second chance" high school for students who face struggles with a traditional school environment. The officials observed classes and talked to teachers and students throughout the morning.
Sheila Vitale, the director of the office of school sponsorship at the Ohio Department of Education, said that the state, which took over sponsorship of Schnee in May, will "do whatever we can" to keep the school and students successful.
"As long as [the Cuyahoga Falls City Schools] continue to lease the building, we plan on having them," Vitale said of the state sponsorship of Schnee.
The Cuyahoga Falls City School district had sponsored the learning center, but dropped its sponsorship after ODE gave it a "poor" rating due to concern over finances and uncertain chance of success. The rating was reportedly given over unfilled paperwork. Superintendent Todd Nichols previously said the state never told the district there had been an issue with the paperwork until they received the rating.
The current sponsorship will last through June 30, 2019. Vitale said that under state statute, there is a two-year limit for sponsorship contracts. She added that the state would sponsor the school as long as it proved to meet criteria and "as long as they want to stay with us."
Despite the rating, Schnee Learning Center was the only Dropout Prevention/Credit Recovery school in the state to rank "exceeds expectations" in almost every category by ODE in the 2017-18 school report cards.
DeMaria said he was "very impressed" with the school. He said he enjoyed the opportunity to talk to the students.
"I always have a great time when I tour the schools," DeMaria said. "Students will always give you the unvarnished reality. They [are] articulate, very smart. What was notable is how they talk about the sense of community. They feel cared for by the adults. Caring adults are important in a student’s life."
Sarah Fowler, the District 7 member of the state board of education, said she visited Schnee four or five years ago, and appreciated the unique services the school offers. She added she liked the changes seen that still serve the "unique needs of the students."
"I appreciate what they are doing for the kids," Fowler said.
Schnee Principal Tony Pallija said he was happy the state superintendent was able to stop at Schnee.
"Having him visit such a small school, with his busy schedule, shows how much he cares about the kids," he said. "Our kids are honest, are feisty, and we are here to help them."
Schnee Learning Center has roughly 100 students at any given point in the school year.
"We have room for more," Pallija said.
Reporter April Helms can be reached at 330-541-9423, firstname.lastname@example.org, or @AprilKHelms_RPC