Youngstown Distress Commission’s new chairman urging urgency

By Denise Dick


The newly appointed chairman of Youngstown Schools’ Academic Distress Commission believes the school district is working to improve but believes a greater sense of urgency is needed.

Richard Ross, state superintendent of public instruction, appointed Joffrey Jones as chairman of the distcit’s ADC last month, replacing Adrienne O’Neill who stepped down for health reasons.

“There needs to be a greater sense of urgency,” said Jones, who retired in 2012 after 10 years as superintendent of Euclid City Schools. “I think the superintendent, with the actions he’s put into place, is trying very hard. There are some things that have been slow to develop in Youngstown.”

He listed inclusion of special- education students in regular education classrooms, which happened in many districts about six years ago but is happening for the first time in Youngstown in the 2014-15 school year, as an example.

Research has shown that special- education students in self-contained classrooms don’t achieve at as high a level as those in classrooms with regular-education students, he said.

Jones was approached by John Richard, state assistant superintendent, and Clairie Huff-Franklin, director of academic distress commissions and education reform, about filling the post.

“I deliberated about it for awhile,” he said. “I knew it was a big responsibility, but it’s also an honor, a way to give back.”

John Charleton, an Ohio Department of Education spokesman, said in an email that Jones demonstrated enthusiasm and passion for helping Youngstown students.

“His background as a successful 10-year superintendent of a first-ring suburb [Euclid city] of Cleveland offers hope that he will provide consistent leadership, understanding the challenges of an urban district,” Charleton said. “His calm but determined demeanor is a good fit for Youngstown.”

Kay Van Ho has served on the Euclid City School Board for 27 years — 10 of them with Jones as superintendent. She says her former colleague is very knowledgeable and has great ideas.

“He is going to be very open and honest,” said Van Ho, board president. “People better be ready to hear what he has to say.”

The Euclid district was pleased with him and sorry to see him go.

“I thought he was really going to retire,” she said. “I think that shows his dedication to kids and education. He lives and breathes kids and education.”

Jones is skilled at getting people to work together — teachers, administrators, different committees — and he’s very data and detail oriented, Van Ho said.

“The public respected him very much,” she said.

Before joining Euclid Schools, Jones worked for 12 years in the Mentor school district — seven years as assistant superintendent and five years as a building administrator.

A native of Long Island, N.Y., he earned his bachelor’s degree in English from Ohio University in 1971, his master’s in education curriculum from Cleveland State University in 1977 and his doctorate in educational leadership and administration in 1998 from Kent State University. He also served 20 years in the Army Reserves, retiring as a major in 1994.

After retiring from Euclid, he worked as an assistant professor at KSU, retiring earlier this year.

Jones said he’s been reviewing the academic recovery plan passed by the ADC and designed to guide the district out of academic distress.

“It has some good points to it,” he said. “I think Youngstown City Schools is making a good effort to achieve those changes with the schools of choice, for example.”

School districts have to be careful not to offer too many choices though, he said.

“It’s difficult for people to know what choices to make if they have too many choices,” the chairman said.

Members of the ADC serve without compensation, earning only mileage and expense reimbursement.

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