Improved Solutions for Urban Systems, Inc.

Improved Solutions for Urban Systems, Inc.

Organization Name:
Improved Solutions for Urban Systems, Inc.
Organization Director:
Ann Higdon
Program Name:
ISUS Institute of Construction Technology; ISUS Institute of Manufacturing; ISUS Institute of Health Care
Street Address:
140 N. Keowee Street
Contact Person:
Ann Higdon
Contact Title:
Contact E-mail:
Program Summary:

Improved Solutions for Urban Systems (ISUS) operates three state-chartered high schools for youth ages 16-22, many of whom are returning high school dropouts, over age for grade level and lack basic skills. The schools combine rigorous academics and occupational skills with youth development and community development. Students earn a high school diploma, college credits and nationally recognized skill certifications. ISUS offers students three career tracks: residential construction, advanced manufacturing/computer technology, and health care.

Founded in 1992, ISUS began as a program designed to work with the Dayton school system to address an escalating dropout problem and to better prepare these youth for work in high-demand industries. For several years ISUS jointly enrolled all of its students in Sinclair Community College. Ohio’s enactment of a charter school law in 1998 provided the opportunity to expand its program offerings and stabilize the program. Starting with construction and then computer technology, the schools have broadened their career offerings, most recently to include advanced manufacturing and health care. Annual student enrollment at the school approaches 400. Of the student population 24 percent have disabilities. The types of disabilities include autism, cognitive, emotional disturbance, other health impairments, specific learning disability, and speech or language impairment. Class sizes are small, providing youth with individualized instruction.

Measures of success include: students’ annual academic improvement; creation of a strong positive self-concept; attainment of marketable skills; improvement in targeted neighborhoods; and student placement in jobs or higher education.

Program Structure/Design:

ISUS operates career-focused charter schools for youth, ages 16-22, in Dayton, Ohio. The student population had been characterized as “over-aged, under-achieving, non-attending, court-involved, disciplinary problem, dropout” youth. Several years ago, the students decided to call themselves “transcenders,” people who rise against all odds. The student population is about 60 percent African American; 40 percent Caucasian and 70 percent male. Three-quarters are considered low income, and 80 percent are court-involved. Of the student population 24 percent have disabilities. The types of disabilities include autism, cognitive, emotional disturbance, other health impairments, specific learning disability, and speech or language impairment.

ISUS schools integrate industry-certified skills training with academics, youth development, and community service. Academic and skills training is organized around three career tracks–construction, manufacturing/computer technology, and health care. An aggressive outreach and recruitment process attracts students and referrals through a number of community organizations and agencies, including other public schools, juvenile court, youth centers, and the local homeless shelter. ISUS provides an in-depth orientation for prospective students and their parents or guardians. The staff presents information relating to each career-training track and expectations and an overview of the challenges and opportunities afforded to students.

ISUS students alternate between academic and technical instruction and hands-on work experience. Students get hands-on practice and serve their community in areas related to their careers. For example, health care students volunteer at local hospitals, computer students refurbish computers that are donated to needy youth, construction and manufacturing students build homes for low-income families.

States of Operation:
Youth Targeted:
  • Out of school youth
  • In-school youth
  • Runaway and Homeless Youth
  • Youth With Disabilities
  • Pregnant or Parenting Youth
  • Youth Offenders
  • Youth in Foster Care or Aging Out
  • Rural Youth
  • Urban Youth
  • Minority Youth
Profile Year:
Innovative Practices
School-Based Preparatory Experiences:
ISUS operates using a small-school learning environment with academics clustered around one of four career areas. Graduation requirements are rigorous. Students must pass all core academic subjects, averaging no less than a C in the technical courses; pass all five parts of the Ohio Proficiency Exam; achieve at least a 4 out of a possible 6 on the Work Keys exams; and maintain at least a 90 percent attendance rate in their final year. To help students meet these high standards, the schools have a longer school year and a longer school day. Class sizes are small, generally 13 to 14 students. Each career cluster has its own faculty and the schools make it a priority for teachers and counselors to know the students well. Academic subjects are taught in the context of the student’s chosen career field and learning is hands-on. For example, instruction in mathematics might use pouring concrete footings as an opportunity to teach geometry, measuring lumber dimensions to teach fractions, and reading and preparing blueprints as an exercise in ratio and proportion. Students progress at their own pace.
Career Preparation and Work-Based Learning Experiences:

Students alternate between academic and technical instruction and hands-on work experience and learning. For example, in the construction trade, students work alongside ISUS instructors who are journeymen and craftsmen. Those students and instructors are building 60 affordable homes in one Dayton neighborhood. The construction program uses a curriculum designed at the University of Florida’s National Center for Construction Education and Research, in cooperation with building trade associations. Completing students are placed on a national registry and starting salaries are determined using an apprenticeship approach.

In the Institute of Health Care, ISUS instructors teach the requisite coursework. Kettering College of Medical Arts, a suburban Dayton institution, provides health care-specific instruction for students. Health care students progress through a continuum of courses that lead to nurse assistant or licensed practical nurse certifications. Computer students work towards their MOUS and A + certifications. ISUS and Intelligent Building Systems (IBS), a manufacturing products and software design company, are designing the curriculum for the Manufacturing Institute. IBS’s prototype line is being installed for student use.

Seniors work with assigned staff in developing portfolios, conducting mock interviews, and learning about proper dress attire for interviews and other information to help them to be successful. Job opportunities are given to students who need work.

Youth Development and Leadership:
The schools have a focus on building lives and rebuilding communities. All students complete community service hours in areas related to their field. Health care students volunteer at area hospitals, construction students build homes for lower-income families, computer students refurbish computers and donate them to needy youth, and manufacturing students build wall panels for new home construction. Computer students held a week-long computer camp for children in the communities that they are hoping to revitalize. Children who completed the course received computers refurbished by ISUS students.
Connecting Activities:
Almost one-fourth of the students have an identified disability. The types of disabilities cover autism, cognitive disability, emotional disturbance, other health impairments, specific learning disability, and speech or language impairment. Students have an Individual Education Plan (IEP), which has their goals and objectives. An IEP At-A-Glance–a synopsis of each student’s goals, objectives, modifications for testing, and other important information–is given to the classroom teachers. Student needs are met through teacher intervention and modification of lesson plans, consultations with intervention specialists, and intervention specialists within the classroom setting. Intervention specialists also have their own resources that are shared with teachers to help supplement their lesson plans.
Family Involvement and Supports:
Youth and adult relationships within ISUS are based upon trust and accessibility. Staff will make contact with students’ family members not only when students are having problems but also when their children are succeeding. Family members are engaged in parents/teachers/student conferences held in late afternoon through early evening to help accommodate schedules of parents/guardians. An informal Family Night has been held which enables everyone to relax together with supper, games, and door prizes. There are also special programs, such as Veterans Day and African-American Day, which showcase music and poetry of students, and end-of-quarter awards programs that parents attend. During the annual graduation ceremony, some parents are given the opportunity to speak.
Organizational Practices/Administration

ISUS collaborates actively with a variety of sources from which ISUS primarily receives financial support, technical assistance, and advocacy for its students and programs. In addition to the Institute of Health Care’s partnership with Kettering College of Medical Arts and Grandview Hospital, ISUS also works closely with Montgomery County Juvenile Court who refers potential students and provides services to facilitate sealing juvenile records of graduates.

ISUS receives funding from various governmental and private sources. These include YouthBuild, AmeriCorps, TANF funds for job training, and support from the Dayton Rotary Club with whom ISUS has an integral relationship.

Among the other area educational organizations with whom ISUS collaborates are Wright State, Antioch McGregor, Sinclair Community College, and the Miami Valley Special Education Regional Resource Center.

Evidence of Success (Information and Analysis)
Outcome Data from 2004 Graduate Survey
Measure Percentage
Graduation with a High School Diploma 60%
Placement in employment following graduation 85%
College Credits Earned in High School 45%
Recidivism rate for court-involved youth 15%
Third-Party Documentation:
  • Featured Program in Whatever It Takes: How Twelve Communities are Reconnecting Out-of-School Youth, American Youth Policy Forum, 2006.
  • Runner-up in the Pioneer Institute for Public Policy Research’s 2005 Better Government Competition.
  • US Department of Housing and Urban Development’s “Best in American Living Award,” sponsored by the National Association of Home Builders and Professional Builder magazine, 2002.
  • Dayton Business Journal’s “Not For Profit Business of the Year” award, 2002.