LORAIN — After his first 30 days, the Lorain school district’s new CEO is on track complying with state House Bill 70.
At an Academic Distress Commission meeting Thursday night, CEO David Hardy updated the community engagement portion of his appointment required by state law and James Miller, legal counsel with the Ohio Attorney General’s office, said it was exactly where it needed to be.
“It seems like the CEO and the commission are following the statutory timeline spot-on,” Miller said. “There’s quite a bit of progress with the community stakeholders piece.”
According to House Bill 70, Hardy had the first 30 days after his appointment, which occurred at the end of July, to engage the community before he puts together a strategic plan to improve the district’s academics, which will be available for viewing Oct. 22.
Hardy said over the course of the last month, the district has conducted 18 focus groups, he has had 52 one-on-one meetings, he has attended eight school or community events and 635 people have responded to a community survey about the district.
“We want to get these numbers up so we can get the information necessary to move forward,” he said. “A number of things will shift and change as we meet with more community members, we get more information, and we’ll change ourselves as necessary. Some of the things will lead to actions that will be taken, but this definitely is in the draft stage.”
Hardy did note he had several concerns looking at the district’s position, including that only 2.5 percent of students receive a remediation-free score on the ACT and that many people expressed a high level of distrust in the district.
“There are parents feeling that they’re not being respected as they need to be, and it’s important we find a better way to reach them,” he said. “We also need to create a consistent equitable vision for student success — do a deeper dive into what that means. Communication has come up many different ways and how we need to communicate with the teachers, principals in the buildings. The things schools need are not always what they receive.”
Hardy said what he’s learned about the district so far has made him want to speed up his transition to the district. He was originally planning to start in the district full-time at the beginning of October.
“My plan is to move that up two weeks because there are things that are concerning, and I need to address them,” he said. “I want to dive deeper into some specific areas.”
Hardy said he wants to really look at academics by analyzing student work samples, classroom visits and curriculum review; culture by surveys, teacher focus groups and interviews with school leaders; human capital by looking at talent management practices and surveys and interviews with central office staff; and structures by looking at funding allocations and additional services.
He also wanted to be clear that what he’s working on and plans to be working on shouldn’t change the way teachers work in the classrooms.
“This is not directly affecting the work at schools,” he said. “Keep doing what you’re doing. Know a lot of the changes we’re talking about will not directly impact that (2017-18) school year in the classrooms. This is in preparation for supporting you better.”
Superintendent Jeff Graham, who unsuccessfully applied for the CEO position, also spoke at the meeting, noting that while he isn’t giving the presentations to the commission, it isn’t because he’s trying to send a message about his future in the district.
“Last time I was called to the podium, I asked Dr. (Stephen) Sturgill to do it, and I was asked by a few people if I was making a statement, and I can assure you I was not,” he said. “What we’re trying to do is behave like we did with the last distress commission, which is the people in the central office with the most direct contact with the information being requested are the folks who come up. I assure you, if I wanted to make a statement, I’m much more candid than that. I want to be respectful to people and not just speak for the sake of speaking. The goal is to get the information you request.”
The district has a CEO because failing test scores and poor state report card grades caused it to be classified by the state as under academic distress in 2013.
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 with the exception of the right to put levies or bond issues on the ballot and after two years in power, the CEO also can take “failing” buildings and turn them into charter schools.
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