By Denise Dick
A common theme heard by a team of reviewers contracted by the Ohio Department of Education to gauge the city school district was a lack of understanding of board members’ roles and responsibilities, the state associate superintendent said.
The reviewers visited the Youngstown district for a week in May, gathering information about district leadership and governance, curriculum and instruction, assessment, human resources and professional development, student support and fiscal management. The report, listing strengths, challenges and recommendations, was released Thursday at a Youngstown City School District Academic Distress Commission meeting.
John Richard, state associate superintendent, said the reviewers, all of whom are current or former educators, also heard from many they interviewed about a lack of communication.
The reviewers interviewed school board members, administrators, teachers, students, parents and community members.
“During interviews with Youngstown board members, district leadership and other stakeholders, some expressed concern that the board members do not have an understanding of their roles and responsibilities,” the report said. “In interviews with central office personnel in various roles, there was a common theme that the board wants to be involved in the day-to-day operations of the district.”
Board members in their interviews said: “It’s the board’s job to make decisions rather than the superintendent.” “You [we ... the board] need to be micromanagers,” according to the report.
It recommends training for school board members and central office administrative staff focusing on roles and responsibilities.
Richard said the team believed that maybe an ongoing facilitator, rather than training that lasts a day or two, would be more effective.
Interviews with board members and central office administrative staff indicated that communication between board members and the superintendent is not always timely or consistent, and multiple board members listed communication as a major issue for the district, the report said.
“Because of current communication patterns among the board of education, the administration, the staff and the academic distress commission, there is a constant tension throughout the district,” it says. “These noted challenges create a negative climate and provoke questions as to who is actually in charge and running the district.”
The report recommends implementation of a communication protocol.
As far as curriculum, the report says that while the district has numerous resources, there is sometimes a lack of consistency in their implementation and there’s a need for more focused professional development.
It recommends the curriculum resources be aligned to the new state standards and training provided to district staff.
In other business, after lengthy discussions with school board members, the commission approved two resolutions directing the school board to award contracts based on Superintendent Connie Hathorn’s recommendations.
One contract is for roughly $300,000 for D&E Counseling Center to operate the in-school suspension program at East High School this school year. Board members had tabled that resolution at a meeting earlier this week.
The other contract was for about $137,000 to Thompson Enterprises of Youngstown to provide mental health and behavioral services at Programs of Promise at Wilson. The board had rejected that resolution.
Douglas Hiscox, deputy superintendent for academic affairs, said the district received a grant to pay for the services and the grant begins the first day of school, Tuesday.
Board members Brenda Kimble, Jackie Adair and Ronald Shadd said they were concerned about the effectiveness of the Thompson group last year. Kimble and Adair said they visited the school and found it in disarray with students fighting and walking the halls while company personnel didn’t intervene.
Kimble said she also heard from a parent who was dissatisfied with the services.
After hearing board members’ concerns, Paul Williams, a commission member, asked Hathorn to add a clause to the contract allowing it to be terminated with 30 days’ notice if Hathorn finds that the company isn’t doing the job he wants them to do.
Hathorn said he would ask the company to agree to that and would report his findings about the company’s work to the commission and the board.
Kimble asked how Hathorn was going to evaluate the company.
“That’s what he does,” said Michael Garvey, commission chairman. “We have to trust him.”
Joffrey Jones, commission chairman, agreed.
“That’s one of the distinctions between the administration and the board,” he said.
Board members had tabled the resolution regarding the in-school suspension program because they heard presentations from two companies and wanted time to review both proposals, said board member Marcia Haire-Ellis.
Adair said the other company, Striving to Achieve Real Success, submitted a proposal for only $150,000, but acknowledged their presentation wasn’t polished.
But she believes the students in the district would identify with the people who run the program, who are black.
“As we have heard today, race matters,” Adair said.
One of the people with STARS is the East football coach, who has turned the football program around, she said.
“D&E has been around a long time, and we’re still having these issues,” Adair said.