A video of Tuesday’s Academic Distress Commission meeting is below the story.
LORAIN — An Academic Distress Commission member is calling for CEO David Hardy’s resignation, while the new chairman is moving forward with the CEO’s overdue evaluations.
Roughly four months since the last ADC meeting, Tuesday’s session was the first under Chairman Randall Sampson, who was named to the commission in February. Commission member Steve Cawthon started the public comment section of the meeting by calling for Hardy’s resignation.
“I will use a basic analogy from the world of sports: When the environment of the locker room changes and a leader becomes counterproductive and is no longer a positive change agent to the good of the team, knowing when to move on from that situation for the good of the organization is leadership. … Because of what I have seen here in the last year-and-a-half and the showing here tonight, one thing is clear: This situation with the CEO has lost its ability to lead. He has lost his voice. He should do the right thing and resign as CEO of Lorain City Schools.”
Cawthon’s assertion was met with a majority of cheers from the packed cafeteria. He went on to say if Hardy is not willing to step down, the commission should be ready to “do the right thing.”
Sampson, who spoke toward the end of the meeting, was not so quick to let the ax fall on the CEO, but did say he was working on evaluating the district leader. Per Hardy’s contract, the commission was required to evaluate him after his first 180 days in the district, 365 days in the position and thereafter on a yearly basis. None of those evaluations were completed.
According to emails shared with The Chronicle-Telegram, former ADC chair Tony Richardson was working on Hardy’s evaluation with commission member Patty O’Brien before Richardson’s resignation in January.
Sampson said he was “shocked” to find no evaluation had been done prior to his appointment.
“My challenge is this, I have to shortly create an evaluation system for the CEO,” he said. “Something that does not exist at the state level — which it should. So I have to go all the way back to 2017 and ’18 and re-examine all of the processes and have a tool that will match that up.”
He said he will try to be sensible in the process and create an evaluation that focuses on the “systemic implementation of processes and policy” during the CEO’s first year, and focusing on implementation and results in the second year. Normally a quarterly meeting, Sampson said he plans to call another to discuss those evaluations soon and will expedite the process as quickly as possible. He will be sending out an email to community members for input on the evaluation tool as well, he said, citing “there is no CEO in the State of Ohio that has had this level of scrutiny or evaluation.”
“It’s not going to be easy,” he said. “It’s going to be hard decisions that need to be made and my final report will obviously be public and I also have to have conversations with folks at the Ohio Department of Education. This is not a unilateral decision. I am not a kingmaker. I am all about empowering the voices of professionals who work. So with that said, I cannot come in and just arbitrarily throw the ax on somebody or prop them up. There has to be a process that’s fair for everybody involved.”
For the benefit of the new Academic Distress Commission members, Hardy gave a recap of his work in the district during year one, two and plans for the upcoming years.
In year one, he focused on “organizational culture,” he said, including restructuring building and district-level leadership to create the dean/chief positions.
Year two, noted as “creating healthy conflict,” is where the district is now: the midst of “raised expectations for teaching and learning” and moving to a standards-based model for grading and instruction. He said the district has seen an increase in the number of classrooms teaching to state standards, and a rise in some academic outcomes for students like an increase in those graduating with an associate degree this May.
Moving into next year, the district has partnered with The New Teaching Project and Achievement Network, or ANet, two consultant firms, to “improve teaching practices” and create coaching and support opportunities for teachers. His presentation states “we will move forward with improving our teaching force with those that embody the mindset necessary to educate our scholars through the challenges they face.”
Year three’s goal is to create a system of excellent schools, a plan discussed at last month’s town hall meeting when the high school was marked as the lowest performing in the district and designated an Empowerment school.
The plan introduced last month relied on the district’s “Big Board,” which Hardy said will be revamped. He said the district is implementing 10 focus groups staff can opt into, including committees on standards-based grading and the Lorain Way 2.0. Those groups will be held next month, with outcomes announced at the April town hall meeting.
The situation created by House Bill 70 and its need for repeal was noted several times during public comment and in Cawthon’s initial address. Even Hardy noted the challenges of working under the bill, seen as the creation of an “evil empire” in the struggling district.
Earlier in the afternoon, state Reps. Joe Miller, D-Amherst, and Don Jones, R-Freeport, introduced their legislation to end state takeovers of local school districts.
As previously reported, under Miller’s bill, Academic Distress Commissions would be dissolved, while implementing a bottom-up reform model for struggling districts. The legislation calls for an increate in wraparound services for low-performing districts to help students “maximize their potential,” Miller said in a news release.
The bill has garnered support from state Rep. Michele Lepore-Hagan, D-Youngstown, whose local school district was the first to come under state purview. The bill will be sent to the House Rules and Reference committee where it will receive a bill number and committee assignment.
It is one of three proposed legislations dealing with state takeovers. State Sen. Nathan Manning, R-North Ridgeville, introduced Senate Bill 110, a “Lorain Plan” to change the makeup of the district’s distress commission to a locally appointed majority, while state Reps. Kent Smith, D-Euclid, and Steve Hambley, R-Brunswick, recently announced House Bill 127, which would create a moratorium on further state takeovers of struggling school districts.
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