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Groups from Lorain and other state takeover districts testify against HB 70 (UPDATED, VIDEOS)

  • MG-0467-JPG

    Ohio School Superintendent Paolo DeMaria speaks at a state school board meeting in Columbus on Tuesday.

    CARISSA WOYTACH / CHRONICLE

COLUMBUS — The Ohio State Board of Education unanimously approved a resolution against House Bill 70 at its meeting Tuesday.

Following close to two hours of testimony from Lorain, East Cleveland and Youngstown community members, State Board of Education member Nick Owens, representing District 10, introduced the simple, one-sentence legislation: “The State Board of Education does not support House Bill 70 of the 131st General Assembly.”

Following the resolution’s passage, Lorain School Board President Mark Ballard said this signifies that the Board of Education does not support Lorain CEO David Hardy, who was hired under the controversial 2015 law.

‘Abandoned’ by ODE

Accompanying Lorain Board of Education members was a member of the district’s first Academic Distress Commission, Henry Patterson. Serving on the commission from 2013-17 — when it was disbanded under House Bill 70 to create the current ADC — he noted the first Commission was making progress with support from the Ohio Department of Education. And that the new top-down model does not work.

“The next school year’s coming, we should be planning for next school year right now, but I couldn’t tell you what’s going on, CEO or not,” he said. “The lack of local leadership or oversight has resulted in a model where there’s no accountability of anyone and frustration abounds. In my opinion, the job is too big for one person to be the CEO and the community is left to pay the tab.”

Later in the meeting, State Superintendent Paolo DeMaria disagreed that the Ohio Department of Education had slighted the district.

He cited a fundamental flaw of House Bill 70 is it “drives a wedge” between the CEO and local Board of Education. He said the department does regular “check-in calls” to the district, and just recently sent representatives to work on a review report.

State Board member Meryl Johnson suggested there be a conversation to align Lorain and ODE’s expectations of one another.

“With all due respect, there’s a reason they feel that way,” she said.

In the midst of further testimony from Lorain Academic Distress Commission member Steve Cawthon and Lorain Education Association president Jay Pickering’s testimony, a handful of mothers were brought to tears when telling of the district’s slow-to-start switch to standards-based grading — which resulted in the deletion of close to a month’s worth of grades at the beginning of the school year — unqualified administrators and students being told they are failing by building principals.

“This is not all for nothing,” said parent Sumer Harvey. “This is not a big show that we’re putting on. It can’t be again a coincidence that we all feel this way, it’s because it’s happening. And I know Mr. Hardy would like to lead you to believe, Mr. DeMaria … that it is a big show and it’s a big ploy to get him out but it’s not. This is our reality, this is going to be a long-lasting effect after he’s gone.”

Following the meeting, DeMaria said he appreciated representatives from the three districts coming out and speaking to the board. Asked by several during public comment to visit the district, he said he would be in Lorain soon, but wasn’t sure of a date as the school year was coming to a close.

DeMaria has not visited the struggling district since it went into Academic Distress. Of the State Board of Education members, Meryl Johnson — who represents Cleveland and East Cleveland schools — has attended several Academic Distress Commission meetings in Lorain.

Kirsten Hill, whose district includes Lorain Schools, has attended an Academic Distress Commission meeting and met with people regarding the district. She said she plans to try to attend meetings as her schedule allows.

The Lorain Plan

Prompted in part by DeMaria asking what the district would do if House Bill 70 was repealed, Ballard presented the board’s Lorain Plan during the public input section. Under it, the board would take full responsibility of academic achievement in the district, understanding the elected officials “must be held accountable to provide a framework for success.”

The plan outlines three core strategies to help improve the district’s educational outcomes.

The first strategy focuses on transforming academic and instructional practices by implementing a continuous improvement plan, changes based on data and further technological opportunities for students.

The second strategy plans to provide social-emotional and wraparound services in an effort to address obstacles low-income students and their families face. “While we will not use socioemotional or socioeconomic and cultural hurdles as an excuse, our Board of Education does acknowledge that these issues can impact our success.”

Under the plan, Lorain School Board members would be held accountable under six different components:

  • By Aug. 1 of each school year, the Board would develop and make public its Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time bound, or SMART, goals for the year;
  • Make a public commitment to the above strategies;
  • Hold quarterly public forums to provide updates on progress in the accountability plan, including feedback from students in the district;
  • Hire an independent Board leadership Consultant, who will report directly to the Board. That consultant will plan public, quarterly retreats to gather further feedback on the impact of the plan;
  • Establish a “Board of Education Report Card,” which will be provided to the public on the progress the Board is making in holding the CEO/Superintendent accountable for educational achievement;
  • Commit to working with the Student Support Team from ODE and the Ohio Mid-Sized Urban Districts Leadership Collaboration.

The plan goes on to call for the elimination of the Academic Distress Commission and look to hire a new CEO and superintendent, who may be appointed on an interim basis until the board appoints a permanent CEO and superintendent — the CEO would retain their authority under House Bill 70 regarding management of the schools, but would report to the school board. That CEO/superintendent would need to create their own “academic transformational and accountability plan” within 90 days of hiring for approval by the school board. The CEO/superintendent would be given four years to meet academic and organizational benchmarks. Failure to do so would result in them being replaced, according to the board’s plan.

This story has been corrected to show state school board member Kirsten Hill said she has attended an academic distress commission meeting.

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

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