There is no sugar-coating it: Youngstown City Schools remain firmly entrenched in a state of crisis.
Enrollment continues to tumble, dropping 50 percent from 10,000 a decade ago to a little more than 5,000 today. Academic achievement as measured by state report cards remains in the basement of the state’s 611 public school systems. The district’s fiscal health, while improved slightly through recent cutbacks and consolidations, remains tenuous at best and under the watchful eyes of an aptly named state distress commission.
Clearly, those individuals who city voters elect Nov. 5 to serve on the board of education face challenges above and beyond those of any other district in the Mahoning Valley. Not only must they be attentive and knowledgeable policymakers, they must also be aggressive and detail-oriented crisis managers.
We commend all five individuals seeking election or re-election to three seats on the city school board for their willingness and fortitude to thrust themselves into such a vortex of crisis.
But after careful consideration of the qualifications, backgrounds and platforms of each of the candidates, The Vindicator urges Youngstown voters to re-elect 16-year school board veteran Lock P. Beachum Sr. and to elect Jacqueline Adair and Jerome Williams to four-year terms on the board.
WILKINS AND SHADD
Among the challengers, Hattie Wilkins, a student at Youngstown State University and a pioneer in the city’s blossoming urban-garden movement, brings to the race a solid commitment to serve. Her priorities — transforming schools into places students will love to learn in, using local produce for school lunches and embellishing and expanding after-school programs for students and adults — while good intentioned bypass the most pressing crises the district faces.
Candidate Ronald Shadd brings an impressive background of service to the school district on levy campaigns and school-community groups. He also has been active in a host of community service organizations, including the highly respected Alliance for Congregational Transformation In Our Neighborhoods (ACTION). In his interview with The Vindicator Editorial Board, however, his outlines of plans for the district’s immediate future were more abstract and less forceful than those enunciated by the three candidates we’ve chosen to endorse. The fact that his mother, Brenda Kimble, would sit with him on the school board, is troubling for its potential to lessen Shadd’s ability to think and act independently, and it possibly could invite charges of nepotism in school governance.
QUALITIES OF THOSE ENDORSED
Among the three endorsed candidates, we recommend Beachum most vigorously. Beachum, a four-term veteran on the board and a former school principal in the district, had not planned to seek re-election this year but changed his mind after the filing deadline. He said he was concerned about the quality of the other four candidates.
Beachum has served as a steadfast anchor for the school board, working closely and effectively with administrators and others toward dealing with the district’s many woes. Under his leadership, the district has taken its first steps toward long-term fiscal recovery, and small but tangible gains in academic improvement have been made. He fully realizes the state of crisis the school district finds itself in and acknowledges that a complete state takeover of the district remains a distinct possibility. His knowledge, experience and useful contacts on the state and federal levels will be needed to continue the long and slow process of righting the school district’s wayward ship.
Because Beachum entered the race late, however, voters will have to take extra effort to write his name in on their ballots. It is an extra effort well worth the retention of such a skilled and seasoned board member.
The Vindicator Editorial Board also was impressed by Adair, who would be no yes-woman on the school board. She makes no bones about her displeasure with the academic performance of students and in the lack of significant movement toward improving such performance by Superintendent Connie Hathorn and his team. She also proposes some aggressive ideas for improving student achievement. Among them are a longer school day and a year-round school calendar. “Desperate times require desperate measures,” she said.
We also support the candidacy of Williams. He correctly and forthrightly pinpoints the district’s three most serious problems — low test scores, empty seats and fiscal issues — and he sees them as all tied. He also demonstrated a strong understanding of the needs of city school students in academics and extracurriculars.
Clearly, Williams, Adair and Beachum will face daunting challenges if voters select them Nov. 5. We do not envy them for the demanding work that would await them, but we endorse them as the most promising crisis managers among the field.