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State superintendent responds to Lorain Board of Education

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    Paolo DeMaria

    CT

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LORAIN — The state superintendent responded to the Lorain Board of Education’s most recent letter, the first response the local board has received since late February.

Lorain Board of Education President Mark Ballard sent State Superintendent Paolo DeMaria an email late Sunday evening, giving DeMaria an update on the joint school board meeting between Lorain, Youngstown and East Cleveland on April 13, and reiterating the impact House Bill 70 has had on Lorain Schools.

The letter was sent to DeMaria and state school board members, as well as local officials. DeMaria responded about 2:30 a.m. Monday morning.

DeMaria wrote he watched the joint work session video, noting he appreciated the presentations from the superintendents of Mansfield, Warrensville Heights and Richmond Heights — each district that narrowly escaped falling into academic distress after turning its district report card scores around.

“They made it clear that for a district to improve, there needs to be a plan for the changes needed in the educational experience for students that supports improved academic outcomes,” DeMaria wrote. “… Their comments were very inspiring. I know you listened closely.”

Further in the letter he commended the Lorain Board of Education for working on a post-academic distress plan.

“I hope your plan will reflect some great thinking about evidence based practices that reflect real change in Lorain students’ educational experiences. I’m really looking forward to seeing what you come up with, and I really hope it’s not just going back to what the district was doing before … The superintendents mentioned things like instructional frameworks, professional development for teachers, addressing attendance issues, etc. — actually a lot of the things already in The Lorain Promise. I’m sure any good ideas will be welcome by the current (Academic Distress Commission) and CEO.”

On Tuesday, Ballard said he thought it was interesting he got a response from DeMaria only after sending the email to all of the state school board. Ballard said he has received little comment from the State Board of Education members in regard to his recent writings.

“I really think they have this feeling that the state school board is not really clear on what’s going (on) and he just kind of washes over it like ‘Oh, yeah we have a few challenges in Lorain but its working out and we’ve got this going on and we’ve got that going on and The Lorain Promise is wonderful’ and so now that we’ve decided that evidently he’s not getting the message to them, we would just loop them in on our message publically … Evidently he’s not saying what we see or hearing what we’re trying to tell him with this present administration, leadership, Academic Distress Commission and the whole ball of wax.”

He went on to say the state superintendent has certain powers in his position, including either replacing the CEO or removing the district from under academic distress — and asked DeMaria use them. He said he talked to DeMaria on the phone Monday morning.

“We still didn’t get very far,” Ballard said. “He still thinks that ‘If you guys would just work with Sampson and Hardy and tell them your ideas, I’m sure they would be glad to hear from you all and implement all your ideas if you would just share them with him.’ But you know we can’t get Hardy to come to a meeting to this day, since he’s taken the job. I just don’t have any faith in that, but he (DeMaria) did say that if there were some meaningful things we could do to talk about fixing the district that he would be interested in me bringing a group down to speak with him.”

Ballard also penned an open letter to Lorain residents, dated Monday, asking for input on that post-ADC plan. He and others from the area, plan to attend the state School Board meeting May 14 and present their suggestions to DeMaria and the state Board of Education.

“We need you to embrace and support this cornerstone democratic American principal; which is, we are a representative democracy and we are the duly elected board members of our community,” Ballard wrote in his open letter to the public. “We need to let the policy makers in Columbus know we want our district back.”

Mayor Chase Ritenauer wrote a response to DeMaria around 7:45 a.m. Monday morning, comparing CEO David Hardy’s leadership and support from the Ohio Department of Education with that of Superintendent Jeff Graham — who was hired under the district’s previous Academic Distress Commission and former State Superintendent Richard Ross.

“You obviously disagree, but leadership matters,” Ritenauer wrote. “I do not care how impressive the Lorain Promise may be to the outside observer; if the right people are not leading the organization, the plan is meaningless. Winning hearts and minds is key to leadership, and this CEO has lost them and will never get them back … My question is — will CEO Hardy be held to the same standard as Superintendent Graham? After two years, without improvement, will he be removed?”

On Tuesday, Ritenauer said his response to DeMaria’s letter was prompted by what he felt was an “unfair” portrayal of the city’s current situation.

“The ADC seated in 2012 was doing work satisfactory to the prior state superintendent and work that, had the standards remained the same, would have removed Lorain Schools from Academic Distress,” he said. “Neglecting to address the leadership problem in the district makes the other points moot.”

DeMaria’s response to Ballard had noted the state superintendent had given recommendations to improve the takeover process, noting improvements require “practices that drive meaningful change;” local control is important but if ineffective other options need to be available and there is not a “one-size-fits-all approach. Ritenauer criticized those recommendations.

“The opportunity to put the budget language into practice was administratively available through your appointment to the vacant (ADC) chair position,” he wrote. “You could have appointed me, as requested, or another local stakeholder. You chose a Columbus resident. Why should we think the budget language as proposed will be any different?”

On Tuesday, he elaborated that he doesn’t think DeMaria will acknowledge the current administration’s failings and remove CEO David Hardy or make helpful changes to the state takeover law.

“I am not sure anything we say to the state superintendent or (Ohio Department of Education) matter at this point as they continue to grasp onto a poor law. As I indicated, ODE’s proposed changes to the law in ways are worse than House Bill 70. This is up to the legislature to fix, and that is where our efforts should be directed.”

There are currently two bills in the Ohio House and one in the Senate hoping to reform or repeal the state takeover process.

Contact Carissa Woytach at (440) 329-7245 or cwoytach@chroniclet.com.

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