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Commission chair appointment doesn't sit well with Lorain Schools

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This story has been edited to reflect the following correction: Board member Tim Williams agreed in a statement with Mark Ballard, not Tony Richardson.

LORAIN — The Ohio Department of Education announced the appointment of the new chairman of the Lorain Academic Distress Commission, a decision that didn’t sit well with some members of the commission and the Lorain school board.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Paolo DeMaria appointed Randall Sampson to the commission and designated him as the commission chairman, according to a news release Tuesday. Sampson will replace Tony Richardson, who resigned from the position Jan. 21.

“Dr. Sampson is a seasoned Ohio educator with a passionate interest in school improvement and a keen focus on the academic growth of all students,” DeMaria said. “He has an extensive track record of building collaborative leadership capacity with educators and local communities, in order to improve student learning outcomes.”

Sampson has experience at the secondary education level as an administrator, teacher and national transformation specialist, according to the release. His areas of focus include “closing achievement gaps through the implementation and coaching of rigorous standard, systematically increasing college and career-readiness, posing graduation rates, implementing Innovation Learning Pathways and building public-private partnerships through community engagement,” the release said.

Sampson is a Columbus-area resident.

Lorain School Board President Mark Ballard said he doesn’t know much about Sampson, but expressed disappointment nonetheless.

“I’m kind of disappointed that he’s a Columbus resident and not a Lorain city resident,” Ballard said. “It’s kind of hard for him to call the shots on what’s going to happen in our community when he knows nothing about our community. I think it was designed that way, but I’m not at all surprised. Everything they’ve done has been pretty backwards to this point.”

Fellow school board member Tim Williams agreed with Ballard, but pointed out the issue isn’t with Sampson.

“I think there’s a certain level of disappointment, not in the appointee but in the appointers,” Williams said. “The appointee just got appointed. The folks who do know of what’s going on in Lorain — they should be and are aware of the challenges we’re having in this process — I would think they would be more thoughtful in how they presented their appointment.”

Academic Distress Commission member Steve Cawthon also expressed concerns with Sampson’s appointment.

“It’s kind of interesting that he’s from Columbus. I would have hoped we had a more local person that is invested in the community,” Cawthon said. “I’m not saying he can’t do a good job, but it is a little troubling that you have someone from Columbus being put as an Academic Distress Commission member who is also the chairperson that lives two hours away. That’s a little troubling to me.”

Lorain Mayor Chase Ritenauer said he thinks Sampson is well-qualified for the position but questioned why someone local wasn’t chosen.

“I think it’s a thumb in the eye to the local community. I know for a fact that local people were interviewed and were part of the consideration,” Ritenauer said. “Instead of going with someone locally, they went with someone from Columbus. This is not to speak ill of this commission member’s qualifications; he’s well-qualified. The issue is the local component to this bill.”

Ritenauer said one of the biggest disconnects of giving outsiders important leadership positions is the lack of direct local accountability.

“With this House Bill 70, by removing the school board, I believe you still need to have somebody who’s still elected to be part of the process,” he said. “We don’t, and that’s what I think is the fatal flaw. I really do.”

Contact Scott Mahoney at (440) 329-7146 or smahoney@chroniclet.com. Follow him on Twitter @SMahoneyCT.

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