By Denise Dick
Though the city schools climbed out of academic emergency, the gains were minimal, Ohio Department of Education officials said.
“There’s this perception that there’s this big celebration to be had,” said Michael Sawyers, state deputy superintendent. “That’s not true.”
Stan W. Heffner, state superintendent of public instruction, Sawyers and other ODE staff members attended a Youngstown Academic Distress Commission meeting Wednesday and met with The Vindicator’s editorial board.
“Academic watch is nothing to celebrate,” Heffner said.
The district moved from academic emergency to academic watch on the last report card, but Sawyers pointed out that gain was because of improved attendance. The district remains in academic distress, he said.
“It hurts me to look at the data,” Heffner said. “It hurts me to think about those kids.”
While there have been improvements, Heffner wants things to progress faster.
“Every day you delay is a day you put children at risk for not getting an education,” he said.
Heffner said he wants the five-member academic commission to be more aggressive.
“They have a great deal of authority, and we expect them to exercise it judiciously,” he said.
Besides the academic-recovery plan, there are six other plans under which the district is operating, a district strategic plan, Ohio Improvement Plan and school-improvement plan among them.
Within a month, Heffner wants those seven boiled down to one.
Because the commission is the first and only entity of its kind in the state, members may not have been clear about what their authority was, he said.
By law, the commission may appoint school building administrators and reassign administrative personnel; terminate the contracts of administrators or administrative personnel; contract with a private entity to perform school- or district-management functions; and establish a budget for the district and approve district appropriations and expenditures.
The commission should require a relationship between the plan and dollars spent toward academics, he said.
Superintendent Connie Hathorn told the commission he’s not content with the academic-watch designation but believes it’s important to celebrate the accomplishments of school personnel.
“We’re celebrating moving forward because we know we can do this,” he said.