From all indications, Dr. Connie Hathorn is well qualified and ready to take on the enormous challenge of turning around the failing Youngstown City School District, but the new superintendent no doubt knows that his learning curve will be short.
Hathorn, who was selected Friday by the board of education to succeed Dr. Wendy Webb, will have to hit the ground running. He will be expected to move quickly in implementing the academic recovery plan developed by the State Academic Distress Commission and approved by State Superintendent of Public Instruction Deborah Delisle.
The expectation comes from Delisle.
A year ago, as she dispatched the distress commission to Youngstown to save the worst academic performing school district in Ohio, Delisle said that neither she nor commission members would be heavy-handed in their dealings with local officials.
Delisle envisioned everyone working together to resurrect the school district.
That was then. Now, the state superintendent has served notice that time is running out.
In response to a question from Vindicator Education Writer Denise Dick, Delisle said if Youngstown does not improve academically, she will take over the system and do what’s necessary.
How much time is she giving the distress commission, the school board and the superintendent? She didn’t say, but it is clear from her comments that the clock is ticking.
“We’re not going to continue to allow Youngstown to languish academically,” she said. “We’re going to take steps to ensure they improve and succeed.”
A significant step has already been taken by the commission and the state superintendent: They have put in place an academic recovery plan that includes benchmarks for improvement. Delisle said she will review the district’s progress on a quarterly basis.
That’s important, because with the new superintendent taking over in January — Webb is retiring at the end of the year — the school board and the administration will be under the gun to move quickly to adopt the recovery plan.
The board and members of the commission interviewed five finalists from an original field of 31 applicants. The finalists also appeared at public forums, which concluded on Thursday.
While the school board has the authority to hire the superintendent and negotiate a contract, the distress commission was actively involved in the selection process. It means Dr. Hathorn, currently executive director of student support at Akron City Schools, has broad support.
During his appearance at the public forum, he offered the following pledge: “We’ll create a no-excuses school.”
It would be advisable for everyone involved with the district to be aware that failure to climb out of academic emergency this year has put Youngstown on the state’s radar.
Dr. Hathorn has his work cut out for him.