Warren schools’ new chief brings hope for turnaround

Is the top administrative position in the Warren City Schools akin to a revolving door? Some observers might begin to think so, given the fast-paced superintendent shuffle that has played out in the urban school district over the past three years.

Since 2011, three individuals have served at the helm of the academically agitated school district: Bruce Thomas, Michael Notar and recently hired Superintendent Steve Chiaro. On one front, one can rationalize the speedy turnaround by the heavy toll that the many challenges confronting inner-city systems takes on superintendents.

On another front, however, one can never underestimate the value of consistency, commitment and long-term loyalty to a task — regardless of that task’s high quotient for difficulty, complexity and anxiety.

That’s why we commend the Warren City Schools’ Board of Education for its selection of Chiaro as principal taskmaster for Trumbull County’s largest school district. The school board unanimously hired Chiaro last week under a three-year contract with an annual salary of $120,000. From our perspective, the Poland resident has the right stuff to guide the district safely and successfully out of its choppy, troubled waters

Chiaro has a solid and lengthy track record of success and commitment to the district evident in his 18 consecutive years of service to it in a wide variety of teaching and administrative capacities. He most recently served as associate superintendent under Notar.

Those nearly two decades of service will permit him to hit the ground running, armed with an inside knowledge of the students, staff and administrators, along with their strengths, weaknesses and needs.

Clearly those needs are many and mirror those of other urban school systems, including that of its sister Mahoning Valley district in Youngstown. Like the Youngstown City Schools, Warren schools share a nearly identical enrollment of 5,200 students, many of whom come from disadvantaged and impoverished backgrounds.

Like Youngstown as well, it shares the same poor and failing grades on its most recent report card of academic performance released last fall by the Ohio Department of Education.

Warren schools received an overall performance index of D, and it fared no better than straight Fs in its number of performance indicators met, in its four-year graduation rate and in its value-added progress in math and reading.

Harsh realities

To his credit, Chiaro minces no words in recognizing the harsh realities of those disappointing and disconcerting ratings. “We have to improve our academics. It’s just not acceptable. Our district is struggling academically,” he said shortly after his appointment.

To his credit as well, Chiaro has plans in place to right the district’s many wrongs. His top priorities are “raising expectations academically and behaviorally,” he said. That includes improved academic scores; strengthening leadership among the school administration, teachers and students; and improving the safety of school facilities.

Along the way, Chiaro plans to actively involve parents, residents and other community stakeholders in improving the district’s academic stature. Given the plethora of similar woes the district shares with Youngstown, it couldn’t hurt for Chiaro to also reach out to that nearby district’s superintendent, Connie Hathorn, for mutual brainstorming and problem-solving.

But if Chiaro’s gusto for the job, commitment to results and long-term loyalty to the district serve as viable indicators, Warren City Schools may firmly shut that revolving door of in-and-out leadership and step into a new era of stability, growth and improvement.

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