City schools, after state criticism, developing plan for ‘better gains’

By Denise Dick


To get on a faster track to bolster student achievement, the city schools are developing a plan to improve instruction after the state superintendent chastised the district for its slow progress.

The district improved from academic emergency on the 2008-09 and 2009-10 state report card to academic watch on the report card released last month.

But Stan Heffner, state superintendent of public instruction, said that’s nothing to celebrate and that the district remains in distress.

Connie Hathorn, city schools superintendent, met with Heffner in Columbus last week.

“He expects that we have better gains,” Hathorn said. “He will hold everybody accountable, including me, the board, the union, the commission, parents, the community.”

“The bottom line is I agree with what he’s saying,” he added.

At a school board meeting Tuesday, board members talked about the need for urgency.

“They need to understand that if people can’t do the job, they need to go,” said Lock P. Beachum Sr., school board president.

A Sept. 22 letter from Heffner to the city schools Academic Distress Commission says the commission has the authority to identify any staff “who fail to perform their duties at a satisfactory level, including the superintendent” and in consultation with the Ohio Department of Education “reassign or terminate their employment.”

June Drennen, board member, said the evaluation system used by the district for teachers is outdated.

While a pilot evaluation system has been developed with plans to launch it this year, Anthony Catale, another board member, said the district doesn’t have time for a pilot program.

“Now is the time to do it,” he said.

If a teacher can’t control his or her classroom, they shouldn’t be in school, Beachum added.

The board has to have the courage to stand by those decisions by the superintendent, Beachum and Drennen said.

As part of the plan to improve instruction, Hathorn said a team of eight or nine central-office staff will visit school classrooms and determine areas for improvement. If a teacher or administrator needs additional training in a particular area, professional development will be provided.

He believes people in the district understand the sense of urgency.

“We have to move forward,” Hathorn said. “The longer we wait, the worse it’s going to get.”

On his visit to the city earlier this month, Heffner also said that the Academic Distress Commission, appointed to oversee implementation of a plan to improve the city schools, needs to be more aggressive.

The commission expects to contract with a county educational service center to hire a coordinator.

“It will be someone with school-based knowledge but also fiscal knowledge,” said Debra Mettee, commission chairwoman.

Payment for the coordinator would come from the city schools.

The commission’s five members are volunteers, receiving only mileage reimbursement.

Though two commission members, James Hall and Kathy Garcia, are retired, the other three maintain full-time jobs. Mettee is superintendent of Springfield schools, and Betty Greene and Sherri Lovelace- Cameron are professors at Youngstown State University.

They don’t have time to be in the schools every day, Mettee said.

“We need someone to be our eyes and ears in the district,” she said.

Lock P. Beachum Sr., school board president, took Heffner’s statements to heart.

“We need to move from academic watch to continuous improvement next year,” he said. “We’re looking at the possibility of a takeover.”

Heffner didn’t specifically mention the state taking over the district, Beachum said, but with talk of the need for improvement and emphasizing the powers of the distress commission, “you can kind of read between the lines.”

Heffner also told the commission to consolidate the seven plans that pertain to the district, including a school improvement grant plan, Ohio Improvement Plan and the academic recover plan into one plan.

A consultant from the Ohio Department of Education is working on that for the commission.

The next focus for the commission is improving literacy at the schools, Mettee said.

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