YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – In September of 2016, the focus at Youngstown’s East High School was stopping the violence after more than a dozen fights were reported during the first three weeks of class.

But not anymore.

The Youngstown City School District announced that East will be one of the 2022 Gene Bottoms Pacesetter School Award recipients from the Southern Regional Education Board for the improvements they’ve made in attendance and graduation.

“The YCSD is honored to receive the Gene Bottoms Pacesetter School Award,” said YCSD CEO Justin Jennings. “The great diligence of our administrative team, especially in such a short period, is a testament to their commitment to our scholars’ success. Matched with that is the dedication of the scholars who continuously put in the work. Their successes are our successes.”

YCSD will be presented with the award on July 19 at the SREB Making Schools Work Conference in Grapevine, Texas.

East High School implemented one of Making Schools Work’s school improvement frameworks and met rigorous standards that include student attendance, on-time graduation and graduation requirements.

Tuesday in the East High School library, Principal Debra Campbell admitted the school had a bad rap. “Absolutely.”

But that rap, said Principal Campbell, should be gone. “It should be gone. I challenge anyone to come and walk and spend the day with me.”

Her comments came on the same day East High received the Gene Bottoms Pacesetter School Award from the Southern Regional Education Board.

“The award is not for me. The award is for East: our students, our family. It says a lot about our staff. It talks about teamwork,” said Campbell.

“We were able to knock on homes and find out where, we call those our tier 2 students, who had chronic absenteeism. We were able to go and make connections with them and get them online and say where are you?” said Campbell.

“We also acknowledged those students who were being successful online. So we had a paw up. You’re doing well. We went out we gave gift cards. We gave flowers,” said Campbell.

Campbell also explained the Golden Bear Club — where her staff each adopted 10 seniors who they periodically checked on.

“Just touch them. Check-in. ‘How you doing? Are you going to class? What struggles are you having?'” said Campbell.

The “East High School Success Team,” which is a partnership between East High and community-based organizations, helped improve attendance rates from 71.1% in 2020 to 88.4% in 2021 and the graduation rate from 68.6% in 2017 to 84.7% in 2021.

Campbell’s graduation goal is 93%.

“So we set the bar high. Our scholars deserve it, our families deserve it. The community does,” said Campbell.

East High was also recognized as the highest in the district with an 83.9% attendance rate — the highest of all eight urban school districts in Ohio.

This is Principal Campbell’s first year in charge. She said much of East High’s success can be traced back to its previous principal — Jeremy Batchelor — and the programs he started when he was principal.