Hoping to give input on an amendment to the current academic distress model, representatives from Lorain joined counterparts from Youngstown, East Cleveland and other districts at Thursday’s Senate Education Committee in Columbus.
The committee was accepting testimony on Amendment 3117-7, introduced by Sen. Peggy Lehner, R-Kettering, earlier in the week. The proposed amendment would, among other things, lengthen the timeline for supports given to struggling districts, replace academic distress commissions with school improvement commissions, trade a CEO for an improvement director, and establish a state-level school transformation board to oversee struggling districts.
Steve Cawthon and Diane Conibear-Xander, members of Lorain’s Academic Distress Commission, were disappointed with the Senate’s removal of language introduced by the House that would repeal and replace House Bill 70 with wraparound services and building-level supports outlined initially in House Bill 154.
“In my opinion, it is time for the senate to end this flawed experiment and do the right thing and not replace House Bill 70 with another state takeover model with a new name like the state transformation board,” Cawthon said.
Conibear-Xander echoed similar sentiments, fearing as the amendment stands, it would lead to the same discord House Bill 70 brought.
She suggested helping failing school by first fixing the state report card, and understanding students are more than just a test score, while improving wraparound services, teacher development and early-learning initiatives. She also suggested legislators look to hold parents or guardians legally accountable for student’s chronic absenteeism
Sen. Teresa Fedor, D-Toledo, brought up problems with the state report cards several times during the committee — so much so her lengthy statements ahead of her questions drew the ire of Lenher, chairwoman of the committee, and Sen. William Coley, R-Liberty Township. When she tried to ask a question of East Cleveland School Board’s Mary Rice, Lehner ignored her. Fedor previously had continued to finish her statements after Lehner had instructed her to ask a question, given the time restraints on the lengthy committee meeting.
Lorain CEO David Hardy supported the move away from the current ADC model, citing Conibear-Xander and Cawthon’s outcries against the state takeover process as a “wise” reason for the senate to look toward a new plan.
“My hope is that the future school improvement commissions, there is a rigorous, objective vetting process designed to produce individuals who are ready for this charge and focus on outcomes rather than optics,” he said.
When asked by Sen. Nathan Manning, R-North Ridgeville, if the amendment would bring the communities back together after the fracturing House Bill 70 had caused, Hardy said many of those voices do not represent the community. He cited that “over 80 percent” are children of color. According to last year’s report card data, 27.6 percent of students are African American, 42.3 percent are Hispanic and 7.9 percent are multiracial; totaling 77.8 percent
“Some of the voices that you’re hearing and in particular one, one of the commissioners doesn’t even live in the city of Lorain,” he said. “And so I think it’s hard to define community when only limiting ourselves to a few people, many of which do not represent the majority of the city and the majority of kids that attend our school.”
None of the commission members technically live in Lorain. Hardy does not live in Lorain County.
Others with the district, like now-Southview Middle School principal Rae Bastock, Garfield Elementary principal Megan Young and substitute teacher Kristie Duffy, offered some support of the amendment.
Bastock noted the school improvement commission-model “levels the playing field,” by taking some of the control from one person.
Young pointed out improvements on student achievement happen over time, not overnight.
“This bill could potentially have us start all over, (once) again,” she said. “If this continues to happen every two to three years, our district will never make it out of academic distress.”
Others called the change “House Bill 70 2.0,” with Lorain teacher Julie Garcia stating struggling districts don’t need more oversight from politicians who aren’t involved in education — they need more wraparound and support services. Barbie Washington, Lorain parent and founding member of It Takes A Village, shared similar concerns, urging senators to keep the language from House Bill 154, as included in the budget bill when sent to the Senate, rather than fold in the amendment.
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