It has been a year since the Youngstown Plan, designed to revive the academically comatose Youngstown City School District, officially took effect. And while there have been growing pains, we detect a definite sense of optimism on the part of the stakeholders, led by the students and their parents or guardians.
Credit for this change in attitude must go to the revamped state-mandated academic distress commission and to Krish Mohip, the new chief executive officer of the district.
The commission is a creature of House Bill 70, which was passed by the Republican-controlled General Assembly and signed into law in June 2015 by GOP Gov. John Kasich.
Kasich has expressed grave concern about the effects of the Youngstown district’s academic collapse on the city’s children. The governor brought together business and community leaders and asked them to develop a new system of public education in Youngstown.
The Youngstown Plan has many unique features, but the most significant – and controversial – is creation of the chief executive officer position.
Under the plan, the CEO not only replaces the district superintendent, but he is given complete control over the school system.
Indeed, the CEO marginalizes the elected school board by stripping members of all decision-making authority. In other words, the Youngstown Board of Education today is nothing more than an advisory group.
The Youngstown City School District Academic Distress Commission’s appointment of Mohip has proved to be a good move.
Mohip, a veteran educator from Chicago, began his duties this past summer and has wasted little time tackling the numerous systemic problems that have plagued the district academically.
In September, he submitted an ambitious, student-centered and results-oriented academic improvement plan to the commission. It contains specific goals and achievement timetables.
The bottom line: The chief executive officer knows that the community – especially his critics who remain committed to the past failed policies – will judge him on how well students perform in the state tests in the next three years.
Thus far, the overall grade has been an F – earned under prior administrations.
To be sure, major challenges remain, including the dysfunctional home life of many students, but Mohip and the distress commission have made it clear there’s no turning back.
The state superintendent of public instruction placed the Youngstown district in academic emergency in 2010. The system is now under academic watch as a result of an improvement in attendance.
The reformation of the urban school system can serve as a guide to the Lorain City School District, which will enact House Bill 70 in mid-2017.
“While our teachers and students are making great gains, we didn’t meet those benchmarks” established by the state, said Tim Williams, president of the Lorain Board of Education.
“Now we are working closely with the state to ensure a smooth transition so that together we can have a positive impact in Lorain.”
The spirit of cooperation underlying the comments of the president of the Lorain school board stands in sharp contrast to the legal and verbal battles waged by the president of the Youngstown board, Brenda Kimble, against House Bill 70.
Indeed, Kimble sought to block the appointment of the CEO.
It appears that the Lorain schools system is being spared the internecine warfare waged by some Youngstown school board members and others in the community who are determined to undermine any progress being made.
Commission Chairman Brian Benyo hit the nail on the head when talking about Lorain implementing HB 70:
“In some regards, the situation here in Youngstown has been more difficult because it’s more contentious to radical change. I really don’t know if the situation is the same anywhere else.”
It certainly isn’t in Lorain – if the attitude displayed by Williams, the school board president, is a reflection of the larger community. The district should have a much smoother transition than Youngstown.