Youngstown schools cannot afford to lose superintendent

When the restructuring plan for the Youngstown City School District is unveiled to the public March 6, the community will realize how important it is to have the right person in charge to ensure a successful transformation. There is no room for mistakes.

The academically and financially troubled urban school system is living on borrowed time, with the Ohio Department of Education paying close attention to what is going on in Youngstown. If state officials, led by Republican Gov. John Kasich, conclude the district, as it is now formulated, cannot guarantee academic success for the students, they will step in and impose their will on the system. They have the statutory authority to do so.

If members of the board of education want to ensure local control, they will make sure that Superintendent Connie Hathorn does not leave.

Dr. Hathorn took over the district in January 2011 when it had the distinction of being the worst in the state.

His contract expires at the end of July 2014, but he would like the board of education to extend it now. He wants to stay in Youngstown, but he needs reaffirmation from the board.

That is not an unreasonable request, given that qualified, black superintendents are in demand nationally. This is evidenced by the fact that the Little Rock. Ark., school district contacted Hathorn and asked him to apply for the superintendent position. He is a finalist and was interviewed on Monday.

Unless members of the Youngstown school board have an individual in mind who has superior credentials and experience and is as committed to the city’s students as Hathorn, we believe they should extend his contract. He could well be the reason the state of Ohio does not swoop in and take over the district.

Hathorn, who served in various capacities in the Akron system, has the support of the state-created academic oversight commission and also has attracted the attention — in a positive way — of officials of the state education department.

Youngstown board member Rachel Hanni, echoed our sentiments when she said, “I absolutely want him to stay. I think he’s doing great things. I think he has great things in store for us, and I think he’s leading us in the right direction.”

That direction will become clear when the restructuring plan for the district is revealed. The focus is the students and it is designed to give them and their parents or guardians more choices and new pathways to college or a career.

It is obviously designed to not only give the students in the system greater opportunities for success, but to persuade students who have left or those who want to be part of something academically exciting and challenging to give Youngstown a serious look.

Indeed, the STEM and visual arts program at Chaney high school are gaining a statewide reputation and attracting high praise from various quarters.

New reality

Hathorn is the architect of the new Chaney and East high schools and the elementary and middle schools, and he has now come up with a plan to address the new reality: students are leaving and there is more classroom space than is needed.

The district must downsize in order to address a budget deficit of $40 million-plus. That is what Hathorn’s proposal does.

The superintendent must be given a chance to transform the school district. In the words of board member Lock Beachum, a former principal in the system, Hathorn’s leaving is “not going to be a good thing for the district.”

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