Troubled Lorain Schools Seek New Leadership

Diane Xander (far right) joins the four other members of the Lorain Academic Distress Commission at a meeting August 27, 2019.
Diane Xander [far right] joins the four other members of the Lorain Academic Distress Commission at an Aug. 27 meeting. [Lorain Schools TV20 / YouTube]

On its most recent report card from the state education department, Lorain City Schools earned five Fs and one D. Its poor performance led the state to take control of the district under controversial legislation known as House Bill 70.  

Lorain is one of three Ohio districts under state control.

The state appointed a CEO to run the district. David Hardy is overseen by a five-member academic distress commission. One of the newest members of that commission is former Lorain teacher Diane Xander who talked with us about the situation in Lorain. 

The Academic Distress Commission has five members. Three are appointed by the state superintendent of public schools. They include Patricia O'Brien, Michele Soliz, and Randall Sampson. Two are appointed locally. Teacher Steve Cawthon was appointed by the president of the Lorain School Board. Xander was appointed by the mayor of Lorain. "The mayor called me and asked me to serve as his appointed, on his appointed seat on the commission," Xander said. 

Xander joined the Commission in January 2019. Following her appointment, the state superintendent appointed a new chairman to take over for Anthony Richardson, who had resigned. The newly appointed chairman, Randall Sampson, is not in Lorain. 

"That was another huge concern," Xander said. "He's from Columbus, he knows nobody in Lorain. We have been fighting for local control."

Lorain school leaders have been pushing state legislators to end the takeover program. When lawmakers approved the state budget over the summer, they agreed to put a hold on future takeovers. "So I think there were nine or 10 districts that could have possibly went into state takeover this year," Xander said. "But now they are being, they're kind of in safe harbor for a year with this new moratorium. But that moratorium didn't do anything for Lorain, Youngstown, East Cleveland."

Xander said having an outsider come in to chair the Academic Distress Commission exacerbates their concerns. "We've been screaming local control, local control. We need people that know our community."

She says she has taken this issue to the state superintendent, Paola DeMaria, whom she met with a few months ago. "He's very willing to sit down and talk with me. He knows where we stood. He knows where our concerns are." But she said that has not changed the leadership of the commission.

"I want nothing more than to collaborate with the State Department [of Education] and the governor's office, but we just need you to hear us, hear our concerns and help us," Xander said. "We just want some support to, and from my perspective, I'm going to say it--to remove David Hardy from this position before more damage is done."

Xander says Hardy's performance has declined. For the 2017-18 school year he earned an evaluation rating of developing. At the commission meeting a week ago, he was evaluated for the 2018-19 school year. "We gave him an ineffective rating," Xander said. "Out of a scale from one to four, he got a 1.6," she said.  

Xander is concerned that Hardy is driving people away from Lorain Schools. "We had administrators and teachers fleeing the district this past year. Good people that had long, solid histories in Lorain City Schools have left the district because they just don't want to work in the hostile environment anymore."  

One of those who wants to leave is district treasurer, Josh Hill. Hardy accepted his resignation, but the school board did not and filed suit seeking a restraining order against Hardy.

"We hate to lose Josh," Xander said. "He's the person we could count on for some information, some collaboration, because he's the only one that will come to the board meetings and share information." Xander praises Hill for doing a remarkable job trying to balance the competing demands of the job from the school board to House Bill 70 to the CEO.

"David Hardy has refused to collaborate and refused to share any information with the board, or even myself as a commissioner," Xander said. "I have a big problem with that. When you're in a leadership position like that, you have to be honest, you have to conduct yourself with integrity, and transparency, and he has failed on all ends."

Xander spent 25 years in education and worked in Lorain City Schools for 14 years. She says she took the position on the Commission with a desire to help Hardy work through the problems the district is facing. "I wanted to collaborate, I wanted to work through all the concerns that I've been hearing about from the public, and really try to be a help in the situation. You know be an ally for him. And I guess the biggest mistake was he just refused to even collaborate or communicate with me," Xander said.

CEO Hardy did not reply to our request for comment.

The Academic Distress Commission meets next on September 17th.

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