LORAIN — Consistency, community and clarity are some of the things stakeholders told officials they are looking for in the next head of the Lorain school district during engagement sessions Monday and Tuesday.
“I would like to see a CEO that’s in it for the long haul and wants to make the changes that are needed so Lorain City Schools can move forward,” high school English teacher Carol Lee said. “There’s such a wealth and value in public schools that I hope the CEO is dedicated to that and that Lorain City Schools is the best they can be, not just as something they can put on their resume.”
The sessions, which were run by Jim Hager and Leroy Nunery of the CEO search firm Atlantic Research Partners, offered insight into concerns held by teachers and community members, and the pair will help guide the selection process later in the summer.
The Lorain district is seeking a CEO after falling test scores and poor state report card grades caused it to be placed under academic distress in 2013 as well as the purview of state House Bill 70.
These test scores are a frustration to teachers like high school biology teacher Sue Pileski, who said she doesn’t want to be measured on a scale as much when new leadership comes in.
“I’m so tired of everything we do being measured as test scores,” she said. “We do great things here that can’t be scored. We pay for busing, we bring clothing in, we have teachers take students to Columbus for college because they don’t have a ride. We do great things. But we don’t get test scores, so we suck. I just want someone who doesn’t reduce us to test scores.”
House Bill 70, enacted in 2015, states that if a district is in academic distress and under the supervision of an academic distress commission for four years, the old commission will be disbanded and a new one will be appointed to hire a CEO to take over the district.
A CEO would have the full authority of a superintendent as well as most of the powers given to the school board, with the exception of putting levies on the ballot, and after two years, the CEO also would have the ability to take a failing building and turn it into a charter school.
High school special education teacher Michelle Cooper said she’d like to see a CEO who understands the Lorain community, one she’s been a part of her whole life.
“We need to have someone who comes in and takes their value system and their value system as to what education is and work outside of that,” she said. “I was a graduate of Lorain High School 40 years ago, and our education with them back then and the population of Lorain was totally different. We had a different population. We had a lot of industry, and now we don’t have that, and a lot of our students have experienced emotional trauma that we as adults have never experienced.”
Cooper said the ideal CEO would recognize that the Lorain district is different from many others, and New Beginnings Academy teacher Jeanne Akhaven echoed that.
“I think they’re going to have to know the clientele of what Lorain is,” Akhaven said. “It’s interesting, and I think they’re going to have to be aware of all families in Lorain and have some experience with inner city or urban or people with low socioeconomic status.”
Hager, president of Atlantic Research Partners, said he’s been to hundreds to focus groups while at the firm and every school district thinks they’re unique.
“There’s not been one setting I’ve been in where the first thing that’s said to me is, ‘We are so unique and you have to understand,’ ” he said. “There are unique qualities, but there are also a lot of commonalities. One of the uniquenesses you do have is the number of people who were born here, raised here and are now giving back to the school district. You’ve got a great perspective as to why there is a need for these changes that we’re talking about.”
City Council President Joel Arredondo said he’d like to see the district’s graduation rate — in the 70 percent range — go up under new leadership and that the new head of the schools listens to the people.
“He or she will need to learn what the issues and concerns are,” he said. “They also need to be a strong leader that’s able to surround themselves with people smarter than them who can help guide them. What are they looking for in terms of staff? Are they people you know or are they qualified?”
Arredondo noted that sometimes bringing in new staff members can be a good thing as born-and-bred people can often be disengaged while a newer person might be willing to work outside of the box.
Frank Whitfield, head of the Lorain County Urban League and former Academic Distress Commission member, said he thinks the new CEO should have a level of courage along with positive motivation.
“In the culture here we’re up against a lot of negativity … we didn’t get here overnight, and I think there are ways to move the needle,” he said. “We need community-oriented people who can leverage community resources rather than someone who’s power hungry and just disrupts.”
Hager said a report will be written about each session that will be released to the public later.
If community members were unable to attend, Hager said a survey will be posted to the school’s website later in the week for people to voice their concerns or they can send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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