Superintendent, state panel own city’s latest report card

What do you call five F’s, two D’s and two C’s on a report card? If shameful is too harsh a word, then how about pitiful. When you’re sporting a state designation of “academic watch” — up from “academic emergency” — as the Youngstown City School District has done since last school year, there’s a reasonable expectation of improvement.

Indeed, with a highly regarded superintendent, Dr. Connie Hathorn, and a special state oversight commission in charge of the district’s academic recovery, we had hoped that this year’s state report card would show a marked improvement from the year before.

Our strong support for Hathorn and the commission, led by Dr. Adrienne O’Neill, was prompted by two factors: the Youngstown district is running out of time, vis-a-vis the state department of education; and, the academic recovery plan developed by the superintendent and commission gives the system the best chance of showing substantative gains in the state proficiency tests.

But in light of the F’s, D’s and C’s we wonder if our trust has been misplaced. We have no doubt that Hathorn and O’Neill know what needs to be done to turn the failing school system around, but can success be found within the current structure?

“We made some progress,” Hathorn said last week after the district’s grades were posted. He said he isn’t happy with the results and that he’s still reviewing the data.

“The data gives us something to look at, and that’s a good thing,” he said.

But is looking at the data enough? Isn’t that what Hathorn, O’Neill, members of the commission, administrators, principals and even teachers have been doing for more than a year?

Wasn’t the hiring of Doug Hiscox as deputy superintendent for academic affairs designed to provide a clear picture of the district’s academic positives and negatives?

It should be noted that this is the first year the state is using a letter grade to evaluate how districts performed in the state tests.

The Vindicator provided extensive coverage Thursday of the report cards, including an explanation of the nine components that were graded, but there is no overall grade for each district.

Sea change

That’s a sea change from the previous grading system that utilized classifications to reflect academic performance — from “excellent with distinction” to “academic emergency.”

Youngstown was in academic emergency and is now in academic watch. It is not clear what F’s, D’s and C’s would translate to under the old system, but we can’t imagine that the district has moved up to what would have been continuous improvement.

That’s disappointing.

Last year, officials of the Ohio Department of Education told The Vindicator’s editorial board that the state was watching the Youngstown district closely and was prepared to take extreme measures if it did not improve academically.

Indeed, when O’Neill was appointed to chair the distress commission she warned that the clock was ticking and the state would be willing to come in and restructure the school district.

There has been talk about turning the failing schools into charter schools run by ODE or closing the failing schools and sending the students to neighoring districts.

We hope that when the dust kicked up by last week’s release of the report cards settles, we will find that the Youngstown district did better in the state tests than the letter grades suggest.

But regardless of the outcome, Superintendent Hathorn and commission Chairwoman O’Neill own the latest report card.

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