If the definition of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over, but expecting a different result,” then the Youngstown City School District is certifiable.
Don’t take our word for it; consider this statement from the state superintendent of public instruction, Richard Ross:
“I’m disappointed with the lack of progress. Whether it be the school board, the administration or staff or the academic distress commission, the bottom line is they haven’t gotten done what needs to get done.”
Ross knows of what he speaks. He chaired the Youngstown City School District Academic Distress Commission, which was created four years ago in the midst of the system’s academic implosion, before joining the administration of Gov. John Kasich.
He was the governor’s director of 21st Century Education before he took over as superintendent of public education when Stan Heffner resigned.
It is significant that Ross’ opinion of the Youngstown school district is a carbon copy of the one expressed by Heffner.
The only difference is that the former superintendent wasn’t as diplomatic as the current leader of Ohio’s kindergarten through 12th-grade education in talking about Youngstown’s future.
Heffner told Vindicator editors and writers that Gov. Kasich was getting impatient with the lack of academic progress and that it wasn’t beyond the realm of possibilities for the state to take control of the system.
Another option would be for the failing schools to be turned into charter schools run by the state.
Ross, on the other hand, believes the impetus for change must come from the city.
“The community at large, the faith-based community, the business community has to say, ‘Enough. We have to make dramatic change, whether that’s open enrollment or community schools, we have to make dramatic improvement.’ My call to action to the broad community is we need your help. We’re asking them to step forward.”
While we appreciate the state superintendent’s desire to involve the community in the decision-making, we would caution him against being overly optimistic about a consensus being reached.
As the recent history of the school district has shown, special interest groups have been a hindrance, rather than an asset, in the drive for academic success.
The almost constant carping by some members of the Youngstown Board of Education about the academic distress commission exerting its statutory authority over the system’s academic recovery has become a public embarrassment.
Board members seem to forget that the only reason the commission has been involved in the district for the past four years is that the board failed to provide the needed leadership to prevent the academic meltdown.
But it isn’t only the state panel that has become a point of contention for some board members. They have locked horns with schools Superintendent Connie Hathorn so often that the word dysfunction has become synonymous with the urban system.
Indeed, a report from a team of reviewers who spent a week in May going over the district with a fine-tooth comb came away with this telling comment from school board members:
“It’s the board’s job to make decisions rather than the superintendent. You [we … the board] need to be micromanagers.”
Since none of the school board members has a Superintendent’s License, or has served as principal of a major high school, we wonder what qualifications any of them has to micromanage.
The report from the reviewers was made public by the academic distress commission.
It was the basis of a news story that accompanied the main piece about state Superintendent Ross’ disappointment with the lack of progress in pulling the district out of the academic cellar. The two stories were written by Vindicator Education Writer Denise Dick.
If Ross was as surprised as we were to read that school board members had the audacity to say that they had a right to micromanage the system, he will come to the conclusion that the state can no longer sit back and let the status quo prevail.
There has been talk about taking the kind of drastic action that the state Legislature and the governor took with regard to the failed Cleveland City School District. However, there’s one main difference between what occurred in the city by the lake and what is taking place in Youngstown.
There are no major corporations headquartered in Youngstown with chief executive officers who could bring their influence to bear.
Thus, we urge state Superintendent Ross to assign the task of restructuring the Youngstown school system to his staff and not wait for community consensus.
The children are suffering.