LORAIN — David Hardy Jr. will be the CEO of the Lorain school district.
At an Academic Distress Commission meeting Monday night, one day before the state’s deadline, Hardy was named as the new head of the district out of a field of five finalists and 37 applicants.
“It takes a village to raise a child, and I can tell right away that there’s a village that cares about the 6,750 kids that go to our schools,” Hardy said. “Every single day, every step of the way, I will be looking for you to help guide us to help us take this district to a whole other level.”
Hardy said growing up he had eight aunts that helped to keep him on the straight and narrow in the suburbs of Philadelphia. However, it’s not as simple now.
“It is harder to raise our kids and make sure they’re successful,” he said, noting he’s coming to the district to listen first. “But you have deep pride and care for each of the children in the city. I come to you with no agenda. I’ve been hired here to do a job by the commission, and it’s the job I hear you asking me to do.”
Hardy is currently the deputy superintendent for academics in the St. Louis Schools but has previously worked in the Philadelphia school district as chief academic support officer, the New Jersey Department of Education as executive director of regional achievement and at Achievement First East New York Middle School, a charter school in New York City, as a principal.
He began his teaching career in 2003 in the Miami-Dade Public Schools and has a master’s degree in Urban Education from Columbia University and will receive a doctorate in the subject matter from the same school later this year.
He also has a master’s degree in educational administration from St. Thomas University and a bachelor’s degree in economics from Colgate University.
‘Watch very closely’
The Lorain district is seeking a CEO after failing test scores and poor state report card grades caused it to be classified by the state as under academic distress in 2013.
State House Bill 70, passed in 2015, says 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.
The CEO is expected to have all of the power of a superintendent as well as most of the power given to a school board except for putting levies or bond issues on the ballot.
After two years in power, the CEO also can take “failing” buildings and turn them into charter schools, something Hardy previously said isn’t necessarily on the table for Lorain, but it isn’t off the table, either.
“I worked at a charter school in New York and we did things there that can be practiced in public schools in a real way, but it’s what is really best for the students,” he said. “I don’t think that charter schools are necessarily the answer here, but I don’t think there’s just one answer to fix the problems in Lorain either.”
City Councilman Joe Koziura, D-at large, said he believes House Bill 70 is really an avenue for the state to turn most of the schools in Ohio into charter schools.
“I really believe this is part of a plan across the country to dismantle the public school system as we know it,” he said. “(Schools are in) disarray all over the state, and the only way to change it is to get involved. I know we can make a difference by banding together.”
State school board member Meryl Johnson, who represents eastern Cuyahoga County and Lake County, was at the Monday night meeting and said while the Lorain district isn’t in her coverage area, she’s still concerned about what’s happening there.
“This is a national movement to privatize our schools and if you don’t pay attention, you’ll turn around and all of our schools will no longer be of any quality,” she said. “I want to respect what’s happening here. I can’t say I approve, but I’ll respect it. House Bill 70 was not right. I will be watching very closely how this goes and as a community, you need to watch very closely.”
The Ohio Department of Education will pay Hardy $190,000 a year in comparison with current superintendent Jeff Graham’s $156,200. Commission Chairman Tony Richardson noted while it’s more than Graham, it’s less than former superintendent Cheryl Atkinson, who made more than $200,000.
Graham, who is in the third and final year of his contract, applied to be the district’s CEO but was not named a finalist.
“We ultimately felt Hardy was the best choice because he has a history of turning around schools,” Richardson said. “He led the St. Louis Public Schools to get their first full accreditation for the first time since 2000. This wasn’t like a traditional superintendent search. You can’t look for what you would when searching in Avon or Solon. Those are different than districts in distress. You have to look for different things.”
Hardy is one of four finalists who have ties to the firm, Atlantic Research Partners, hired to handle the CEO search at a $25,000 price tag. In 2016, he attended the National Superintendents Academy.
Atlantic Research Partners puts on the academy and, according to a story from the Vindicator in Youngstown, is the latest iteration of a company called The SUPES Academy.
According to a Youngstown Vindicator article, Atlantic Research Partners acquired parts of SUPES in 2015 after it was embroiled in a kickback scandal that sent former owners Gary Solomon and Thomas Vranas, along with former Chicago Schools CEO and SUPES consultant Barbara Byrd-Bennett, who used to lead the Cleveland Schools, to prison.
The connections to Atlantic Research Partners raised some red flags for members of the community, including Steve Cawthon, the lone no vote for Hardy’s appointment on the Academic Distress Commission.
“The ramifications of House Bill 70 have placed a great deal of strife on the Lorain community, and I believe that this process has created unnecessary stress,” he said. “The first step of this process has undergone a great deal of scrutiny. The candidates may be good people but are they the right fit for the community?”
At the Monday meeting, Cawthon asked if the CEO search could be suspended, but James Miller, who works with the commission and the Attorney General’s office, said House Bill 70 doesn’t say it can be so it’s his opinion that no, it couldn’t be.
Frank Whitfield, who served on the district’s previous Academic Distress Commission and is the President and CEO of the Lorain County Urban League, said he feels as though the most powerful position in the history of the district has been handed over to a stranger.
“We didn’t hire Dr. Graham in a vacuum and I think this has been rushed so much that I don’t think people are realizing how critical this position is,” he said. “This district has never seen a more powerful position. This could really turn a negative light.”
Whitfield said the community has built a trust with Graham and he hopes Hardy can do the same.
Lorain NAACP President E. Jean Wrice said Hardy was her favorite after the CEO Candidates’ Night last Tuesday, where Richardson said attendees were asked to fill out forms regarding the candidates, and Hardy was far and away the favorite.
General Johnnie Wilson Middle School teacher Meagan Burns said while she was displeased with the process and that Graham wasn’t a finalist, Hardy’s appointment was best case scenario.
“I’m still not happy about the process,” she said. “I’m still extremely disappointed. That hasn’t changed. We were bamboozled. But of the five, I’m proud of the outcome.”
School board Vice President Mark Ballard said while he disagrees with the process, he doesn’t disagree with Hardy and Lorain resident Ramon Alicea said he wanted to “keep a positive vibe” through the transition.
Hardy said the transition from Graham’s leadership to his won’t be for another few weeks while he gets his work in St. Louis in order and finds a home in Lorain or the surrounding area and he currently doesn’t have a definitive start date.
Commission member John Monteleone said also expressed his displeasure that Graham was not on the list of finalists, saying that while he’s in the Oberlin school district now as an assistant superintendent, during his time at Lorain City Schools, Graham helped to make him a better educator and man.
“As we sit here, I am upset about the process and the education of Lorain children has taken a backseat to politics and it’s disappointing because politics and policy have never educated a child — people do,” Monteleone said. “He will require the unconditional support of those around him to navigate these uncharted waters. Our children and community need us to be united.”
Graham said his administrative team and the district staff will do what they can to assist Hardy when he comes to Lorain.
“While I appreciate the kind words, the last thing I want to be is a rallying cry for more disruption and confusion,” he said. “As a community and a school district we’ve gone through a lot so I can assure you as a staff and administrative team, we will work with you to do what’s best for the families and children.”
Per House Bill 70, once Hardy becomes CEO there will be a series of community forums where stakeholders can voice what they feel their concerns are about the district and what possible solutions are. From there, Hardy will put together a recovery plan.
“It won’t be Mr. Hardy’s plan then,” Richardson sad. “It’ll be Lorain’s plan.”
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