By Denise Dick
Though the community trusts city schools Superintendent Connie Hathorn, the same cannot be said for the school board.
That’s one finding in a report to the schools Academic Distress Commission by the Harwood Institute for Public Innovation based in Bethesda, Md. The report was presented at a commission meeting Thursday.
The institute conducted meetings and interviews throughout the district as part of the community- engagement requirement of the commission’s academic- recovery plan for the schools. The Wean Foundation and the Youngstown Foundation funded the work.
“Some residents described the board members as using their positions merely as a steppingstone to achieve higher office, or as a way to secure contracts for friends and supporters,” the report says. “The school board was seen as a significant barrier to change in the community.”
One of the few leaders in the community people do trust is Hathorn, “who is trusted across different groups in the community. ... Some said they believe he is taking steps in the right direction and that they are willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, knowing that his reforms will take time to bear fruit.”
Richard Harwood of the institute said trust, relationships and confidence need to be created to achieve high expectations.
Lock P. Beachum Sr., school board president, disagreed with the community’s lack of trust in the board.
“We’re making every effort, and we have to work as a team,” he said. “It’s absolutely necessary that the community knows the board is on the same page. We’re making every effort to get in line because our main focus is on school improvement and meeting academic growth. If not, the district will fail and be taken over by the state.”
Harwood’s report lists four recommendations:
Partner with business for student placements.
Mobilize adults to engage with youth.
Focus on building a stronger school-community relationship.
Tell a different story.
The last point deals with telling the positive aspects of the community and the youth.
“Connect stories of change to progress being made in the community,” it says.
Hathorn is expected to report to the commission next month about how Harwood’s recommendations will be implemented in the district.