Hathorn’s first report card: Good but not yet excellent

Judging by the report card issued by the Youngstown Board of Education to Superintendent Connie Hathorn last week, one would not accuse the city school district’s policymakers of grade inflation.

In their evaluation of Hathorn’s first year at the helm of the troubled city school district, board members rated the top administrator a 7 out of a possible 9 points across six categories, or roughly a B grade for “commendable” good work.

Others, particularly those familiar with questionable management practices in years past within the top administrative echelon of the urban district, might very easily be tempted to boost Hathorn’s grade to A for “excellent” or “superlative” performance in his inaugural year.

But such a grade would imply the district is at or near its pinnacle of success, and little room remains for improvement in the oversight and performance levels of the schools. Clearly, that’s far from reality. So while we join the school board in commending the seasoned, action-oriented, results-driven leadership style of Hathorn for an impressive first year, we also recognize his mission to cure the city school district of its multitude of maladies is far, far from complete.

Accomplishments are many

Clearly, though, the longtime Akron City Schools administrator, has accomplished more at the helm of the school district in 12 months than many of his predecessors accomplished over many years. Consider:

Hathorn initiated a structural overhaul of the district with improved performance as its goals. The hallmark has been the conversion of Chaney High School into a center for strengthened arts and sciences curriculum and the metamorphosis of East High School into a more specialized institution for students with business and law career paths. Early reviews show the curriculum reforms have met with success, but we’ll withhold judgment until August when the state releases its report cards on performance levels this academic year of individual schools and the district as a whole.

Hathorn has placed a firm hand over the fiscal oversight of the city schools’ unstable finances and has guided the school district out of the embarrassing state of state-controlled fiscal emergency. Most recently, he decided to remove a planned school levy from the primary ballot once news from the state hit of the loss of an additional 500 students this school year, which yields more financial problems for the district than that levy ever could have offset.

Hathorn has been a staunch advocate of parental and community engagement with the district and meets regularly with student, school and community groups to keep his pulse on the problems, issues and needs of the schools. In that role, he has been a passionate supporter of the $3 million private fundraising drive to construct a new Rayen football stadium to at last give the entire district its own home-field advantage.

Groundbreaking for that stadium is today.

Many challenges remain

Despite these and other success stories, however, Hathorn has much more work ahead to succeed in completely overhauling the academic performance, the fiscal integrity and the public image of the long ailing school district. Among them are reversing the mass exodus of students to other schools and districts, overseeing continued growth in curriculum standards and student performance and working closely with educators and city leaders in making the school district a true source of pride and a viable tool for growth and economic development in Youngstown.

Clearly, board of education members recognize as much as well. We are confident with his action-oriented leadership, the city school district will continue its slow but measureable climb out of what arguably was the deepest educational abyss in Ohio.

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