LORAIN — The school district can’t comply in two years with a new state law, which could lead to an academic takeover by an unelected state CEO and academic commission, Lorain Superintendent Jeff Graham said Thursday.
Lorain has to score a C or better in the value-added and performance-index categories of the state report card for the next two years to comply. Since a 2013 state academic takeover by the unelected Lorain Academic Commission, Lorain has made progress, but with Ohio using new state tests this year, Graham said compliance “isn’t going to happen.”
Graham said the district is working well with the five-member commission on academic achievement strategies. He hopes Lorain will have demonstrated enough progress by the spring 2017 deadline to persuade Ohio Superintendent Richard Ross to release Lorain from academic takeover status, so the law wouldn’t apply.
“To put in a CEO and a new academic commission and come up with a new plan would be harmful to the district,” Graham said in a meeting with Andy Young, The Chronicle-Telegram editor. “To keep throwing different plans at something doesn’t work. You have to give the plan time to take hold.”
The law could result in Graham, who took over in August and has a three-year contract, being fired. It allows CEOs and academic commissions appointed by the Ohio Department of Education to run day-to-day operations in school districts in academic takeover, rather than superintendents and elected board members.
Lorain and Youngstown are the only Ohio districts taken over by the state and controlled by academic distress commissions. The legislation disbands current commissions and names new ones.
The law was abruptly passed by the Republican-majority Legislature in May without hearings. It would allow the CEO to fire administrators and teachers and close schools. It is scheduled to take effect in Youngstown later this month with a CEO appointed by year’s end.
Opponents say the law is unconstitutional and undemocratic. Youngstown Schools officials were in court Tuesday seeking an injunction against the law, the Youngstown Vindicator reported.
Graham said there are no plans to join the lawsuit, but he plans to lobby the Ohio Board of Education, Gov. John Kasich, state Rep. Dan Ramos, D-Lorain, and state Sen. Gayle Manning, R-North Ridgeville. But first, he said Lorain must demonstrate progress with a six-point strategic plan that builds on progress made by former Superintendent Tom Tucker and incorporates the commission’s academic recovery plan. The six points are:
- Increased community engagement.
- Uniform academic standards to accommodate the high number of transient students in Lorain.
- Ensure students are college- and career-ready.
- Ensure staff meet cultural and demographic needs of students.
- Improved recognition of staff achievements reducing turnover.
- "Professional Learning Communities” in which teams of administrators and teachers develop better learning techniques.
About 87 percent of Lorain’s approximately 6,800 students live in poverty and some live with parents who are drug abusers or perpetrators or victims of domestic violence. Graham, who previously served as superintendent in Parma and Woodridge for a combined 12 years, acknowledged some children come to school unprepared to learn and teachers face immense challenges.
Despite the challenges, Graham said he’s optimistic. He said he’s not worried about losing his job.
“I truly believe we’re going to be OK,” he said. “This community is too proud to fail.”
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