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State schools chief sets higher bar for Youngstown board

Published: Fri, September 16, 2011 @ 12:00 a.m.

There is little to mistake in the message that Stan W. Heffner, Ohio superintendent of public instruction, brought to Youngstown Wednesday.

Youngstown schools must make greater improvements in academic achievement. And if the Youngstown Board of Education and its administrators and teachers don’t show results, it is incumbent on the Academic Distress Commission to use the considerable power that it has under state law to effect change.

Power to be reckoned with

How far do those powers extend? Here’s what the Ohio Revised Code says:

While the commission must seek input from the district board of education on ways to improve the district’s academic performance, any decision of the commission is final.

The commission can:

Appoint school building administrators and reassign administrative personnel or terminate their contracts.

Contract with a private entity to perform school or district management functions.

Establish a budget for the district and approve district appropriations and expenditures, unless the district has a separate financial planning and supervision commission.

Enforce the authority given to it by state law even when a school board has entered a collective bargaining agreement that would seem to inhibit commission action.

The commission has had that power in the past, whether it has used it or not, and is going to have it for years to come. Once a district has entered academic emergency and a distress commission is created, the commission exists until the state superintendent disbands it in the belief that the district can improve without it, or until the district receives a “continuous improvement” performance rating or better for two of three years.

Given that Youngstown has just squeezed its way out of academic emergency into academic watch, two years of continuous improvement isn’t in the district’s immediate future. And in a meeting with Vindicator editors Wednesday, Heffner did not give the impression that he would be inclined to exercise a superintendent’s prerogative of disbanding the commission without dramatic evidence of improvement.

Setting expectations

Heffner would not go so far as to say he’d read the commission the riot act in his meeting with members Wednesday, but he expects the commission to be more aggressive. And the commission knows that his office has expectations that Youngstown will show more than the minimal academic improvement that has been demonstrated.

That assessment came at the end of an hour long discussion. But during earlier parts of the conversation, he made it clear that other school districts in other states have found ways to provide safe and effective schools where children from all socioeconomic backgrounds learn. He suggested that the distress commission should come up with a focussed plan to improve the district’s academic performance and that the superintendent be required to report to the board monthly on progress being made.

We suggest that the board and superintendent view that as not a suggestion, but an imperative. The alternative is a future in which the academic commission will be exercising its powers in new and expanding ways.

It shouldn’t take that to turn the district around, but if it does no one in Youngstown will be able to say they weren’t given fair warning.


1Maggie_Pentz(88 comments)posted 4 years, 9 months ago

And where exactly is the bar set for the EIGHT valley charter schools that are in ACADEMIC EMERGENCY? Some for years now.

These are tax-payer funded also. And I might add, highly mismanaged.

You know what? It's hard to not be a hypocrite sometimes, but it's the RIGHT thing to do. So lead by example Vindy...call the ODE and find out why there has not been an academic distress commission sent here to set the failing charter schools on the right path. Are those kids less deserving of their time and consideration?

And while you're at it, maybe contemplate for a moment why this disparity exists. Both entities are publicly funded, both have populations of students with rather rough home lives and both are in academic emergency. So, why is the YCSD being dragged through the mud and there's nary a peep about the failing charters?

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2Westsider(269 comments)posted 4 years, 9 months ago

And to add insult to injury, the charter schools can cut the students loose at any time to return to the public schools. Charter schools are indeed the elephant in the room.

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3janpentz(40 comments)posted 4 years, 9 months ago

This is piling on. The level of hypocracy is unbelievable. As a taxpayer in the city of Youngstown and the state of Ohio, I demand that there be an Academic Distress Commission for the failing charter schools that are continuing to be allowed to operate in the City of Youngstown!!!!!

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4janpentz(40 comments)posted 4 years, 9 months ago

Doesn't Mr. Hefner feel for those kids in those failing charter schools? Why is he so concerned about YCS students, yet not concerned about the kids stuck in those charters? The ODE allowed Eagle Heights to reopen under the same regime, with only a name change. Doesn't Mr. Hefner care about the education the kids in the charter schools are getting?

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5peacelover(838 comments)posted 4 years, 9 months ago

Amen, theotherside. This is the crap that the people of Ohio voted for.

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6Education_Voter(1157 comments)posted 4 years, 9 months ago

Which one?
Stambaugh Academy, across the street from a drug and crime infested housing project, one of the most infamous streets in the city?

Or Youngstown Academy *cough* of Excellence in an old city schools' building on Rigby Street, a block from Jackson and spitting distance from the intersection of Jackson and Himrod, a frequent shooting site?

Or Eagle Heights/Southside Academy, where substitute teachers fear to enter. (In the former South High?)

None of these schools has gone to lengths to ensure safety that the public schools have, from external threats and internal bullies.

Of course, they may be a safe haven for the bullies themselves, who move to get away from disciplinary measures.

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