Lorain Schools Will Get a CEO, Officials Aim to Smooth Process

[photo: Michelle Faust/ ideastream]
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by Michelle Faust

Lorain City Schools will get a new Academic Distress Commission and a Chief Executive Officer. Despite improved test scores in the district, Lorain will follow Youngstown City Schools as the second in Ohio under state takeover. Lorain school administrators say they’re working to avoid a painful transition.

When the Ohio Department of Education released school report cards this fall, department officials knew that changes in state tests and higher standards meant most districts in the state would score lower than usual.

For that reason, low report card scores were NOT held against most districts.

Lorain City School District was the exception.

“It was frustrating,” says Lynne Rositano. She teaches science at Lorain High. And uses the word frustrating a lot to describe how she feels about the situation in her district.

“Our value-added was an A the year before and then it dropped so much the next year, because the test changed, and every other district their scores drop too. But they were not affected by that and we were. So it's very frustrating, because we know we're doing our part and we know that we are progressing and our students are doing well and they are learning,” says Rositano.

But according to state law, the students in Lorain aren’t progressing fast enough.

Lorain has been under the leadership of an Academic Distress Commission since 2013. They had until this year to bring their report card grades up to Cs.

Regardless of the context, Lorain is now going to get a new Academic Distress Commission and a Chief Executive Officer.

“The CEO was a full legal authority of the superintendent and of the board of education,” Superintendent Dr. Jeff Graham explains the CEO’s job.

The law that created this position—House Bill 70—passed around the same time in 2015 when Graham was hired to oversee Lorain Schools.

“I knew when I came in I had no job security,” he says.

When the CEO is hired, not only will Graham be out of a job, but other administrators, teachers, and staff could be, too.

HB 70 allows CEO’s to close schools, create charters, or change the work contracts of district employees—even if they have existing collective bargaining agreements.

Science teacher Rositano knows that means she may have to say goodbye to colleagues. She says that doesn’t sit well.

“We think of ourselves as a family and something about somebody new coming in and kind of you know changing things or telling us something that they don't know about it is it's a little bit uneasy,” she says.

No one knows exactly how the details of this will actually play out.

Some people are more optimistic than others. María Luisa Rivera Figeroa is a mother of three who’s concerned about her eldest daughter’s progress.

“Los cambios son buenos, son positivos. Siempre un cambio es bueno. Yo creo que sería buena idea,” says Rivera Figueroa.

Changes are good. They’re positive. A change is always good. I think that it would be a good idea.

Even, Superintendent Graham says the change could be a good thing, and he accepts the change, but he doesn’t like the thought of his employees being left in suspense.

 “Knowing that we’re going to have a CEO by July, why not answer those questions by January or February? So, that people at least have all the information to make career decisions.”

The superintendent says if Lorain is going to have new leadership, why not expedite the process?

Graham says he’s encouraging Ohio Department of Education to make decisions about the district’s new leadership sooner.

“If we disengage our board of education then we disengage our community and I don't think it matters. What happens next -- whoever the CEO is-- we’re going to go backwards,” he says.

As the district faces an uncertain future. Many leaders are concerned the outsider may not fully understand the unique demographics and challenges facing their kids. They worry about disrupting the growth they’ve already made.

“We don't want to eradicate that. We can't lose institutional memory. We have a commission; we have an administration; we have a board. They’re having a positive impact on learning in this district. To totally eradicate all 3 of those—the 3 legged stool—could be devastating,” says President of the Lorain City School District Board of Education Timothy Williams.

District leadership is trying to get ahead of this possibility. They’re in talks with the ODE in the hopes that Lorain’s elected school board still has a voice even when new leadership takes over.

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