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Forum focuses on state of Lorain Schools

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    David Hardy Jr, CEO, Lorain Public Schools, speaks to moderator Mike McIntyre of WCPN, at the Sound of Ideas Education Forum at Lorain Public Library on Sept. 28.


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    A sparse crowd attended the Sound of Ideas Education Forum at Lorain Public Library on Sept. 28.


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    Crowd members listen at the Sound of Ideas Education Forum at Lorain Public Library on Sept. 28.


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    David Hardy Jr, CEO, Lorain Public Schools, speaks at a Sound of Ideas Education Forum at Lorain Public Library on Sept. 28.


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    The panel at a Sound of Ideas Education Forum at Lorain Public Library on Sept. 28. is, from left, Mike McIntyre, host of WCPN FM public affairs show, Dr. Bill Zelei, former chair, Lorain Academic Distress Commission, Gloria Buxton, Reitred public school educator, and Henry Patterson, political science professor at LCCC.



LORAIN — As the discussion around education in the city has intensified in the last year, NPR affiliate WCPN 90.3-FM joined in Thursday night as part of a community tour for its “Sound of Ideas” program.

At the forum at the Lorain Public Library Main Branch, moderated by 90.3 morning public affairs host Mike McIntyre and to air at a future date, moving forward in the state takeover of the district was a hot-button issue.

Henry Patterson, a member of the former Academic Distress Commission tasked with turning around the district’s poor state report card grades, said he felt part of the problem was rooted in a changing economic landscape for Lorain as manufacturing has left in recent years.

“I think that’s been a major challenge with the schools in this community,” he said. “Those manufacturing jobs have not come back, and they are probably never going to come back. We’re not going to fix the economics overnight, and we’re not going to fix academics overnight.”

Former Academic Distress Commissioner chairman Bill Zelei said the immense amount of pride and community support of the district can be an asset, but it can also be a liability as it leads to a legacy mindset.

“We look at what we did before, and we say it worked well before, and we want to do that again,” he said. “Unfortunately, Lorain isn’t the same community that it used to be — so doing the things we did 40 years ago and seeing success isn’t what we need to do today.”

Resident Ronald Kelley said other cities with manufacturing backgrounds are seeing the same problems as Lorain in terms of education but are protected from a state takeover due to state-provided safe harbor provisions.

“It seems that the cities going through this are factory towns, and what I’ve seen is when you’re in a city like Lorain, where factories are the backbone, the education tends to follow that, meaning all you have to do is follow directions, and I wonder if Lorain City Schools is still in that mindset,” he said. “This is a new day. That’s no longer the case. Kids have to be critical readers and thinkers.”

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.

Patterson wished the district’s new CEO, David Hardy, the best of luck moving forward but expressed concerns that the time frame the state has given Hardy to turn around the district isn’t enough.

“He has a three- or four-year window to turn things around, but this first academic year counts, and he’s not going to be able to cause major change, and that’s put us into the next year before some of his changes take effect,” Patterson said about Hardy. “Then we have a governor’s race and what happens when a new governor comes in? I think he’s going to have some success, but I hope he’s given a chance.”

Patterson compared the district with the Cleveland Browns football franchise, saying if the head of the organization keeps getting fired, the scores are never going to improve.

McIntyre noted, after several community members spoke, that a child’s education often comes down to family involvement.

“Every time we have a discussion about education, it comes down to families,” he said. “Some people say it very derisively that families don’t care in certain communities, and if you can’t get that fixed, then you can’t fix anything.”

Hardy said the way to improve involvement is to make the environment more welcoming.

“Many of our families, for whatever reason, do not feel they’re accepted in the buildings,” he said. “The most simple thing to do is go to the parents and meet them halfway, not even about the education or their kids, but them and get to know them.”

Former library director Joanne Eldridge said the thing that breaks her heart is simple things like getting a free library card to encourage reading simply doesn’t happen for many children in Lorain because their parents can’t get children there or they don’t realize the value of it, at which point the community should step in.

“We have to take responsibility for their parents,” she said. “We should not even be in this predicament, and that breaks my heart. So here we have another conversation about what we can do and each one of us should say, ‘What can I do?’ We have to stop making excuses about not caring.”

The “Sound of Ideas” show airs weekdays 9-10 a.m. on WCPN 90.3-FM.

Contact Katie Nix at 329-7129 or knix@chroniclet.com. Follow her on Twitter @KatieHNix.

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