Vindicator Logo

Schools’ CEO, on guard!

By Bertram de Souza

Sunday, June 19, 2016

It didn’t take long for the good vibrations that swept Youngstown with the hiring of the first-ever chief executive officer for the troubled city schools to be replaced by bad karma.

Thus, when CEO Krish Mohip returns to Youngs-town from Chicago later this month to begin his new assignment June 29, he will be stepping into an email war of words. The protagonists are George Freeman Jr., president of the NAACP’s Youngstown branch, and Brian Benyo, chairman of the state-mandated academic distress commission.

At issue is the black organization’s contention that the commission’s “visions” for the failing urban school system “do not include Black African Descendants.”

Kumbaya, anyone?

Details of the Freeman- Benyo back and forth were included in a lengthy news story published Friday in The Vindicator. The story was written by Education Writer Denise Dick.

Suffice it to say there’s nothing new about the NAACP’s posture. Anyone who has closely followed the fiscal and academic collapse of the Youngstown City School District would be familiar with the complaints voiced by Freeman.

Indeed, if CEO Mohip, a Chicago public schools administrator, wants some insight into what’s going on, he should fly to Arkansas and spend some time with Dr. Connie Hathorn, former superintendent of the Youngstown City Schools.

Hathorn, a black educator who had served in the Akron school district, had the credentials, the experience and the vision to put the district on the path to recovery. What he didn’t have, sadly, is the strength – and desire – to fight certain special interests and individuals in the community who were determined to see him fail.

2015 column

This writer commented on Hathorn’s departure in a column published April 26, 2015, under the headline “Hathorn’s honesty was his undoing”.

Here’s what it said, in part:

“When Dr. Connie Hathorn had the audacity to publicly criticize parents and guardians in the city of Youngstown who have shown little interest in the education of their children, his days as superintendent of the academically challenged school district were numbered.

“Hathorn, who announced recently that he is leaving June 30 to become superintendent of the Watson Chapel School District in Arkansas, came to Youngstown from Akron with all the credentials, knowledge and experience to steer the troubled school system through the academic and fiscal storms that had been battering it for years. But what the black educator did not anticipate was push-back from self-styled black leaders in the city whose agenda was at odds with his vision – and the vision of the state-mandated academic distress commission.”

Unfortunately, those old battles are still being waged, which is why the new chief executive officer of the school district needs a sit-down with Hathorn.

There’s one big difference between the former superintendent’s tenure and the situation that awaits CEO Mohip: The dysfunctional elected school board is no longer in charge.

Under the state law that gave birth to the new academic distress commission and created the CEO position, Mohip will have complete authority over the school district.

The school board will have an advisory role, but will have no decision-making powers.

Nonetheless, the new CEO would do well to find out from Hathorn how his detractors were able to undermine his ability to get the job done.

There’s no doubt that the former superintendent’s willingness to tell the truth about the failing school district and to discuss family matters, especially in the black neighborhoods, made him Public Enemy No. 1 in the eyes of some.

It is ironic that while he was viewed as a turncoat, his predecessor, Dr. Wendy Webb, was treated with a great deal of respect. It did not matter that she was an abject failure as superintendent and led the district down the path of destruction.

Although Hathorn had the unwavering support of the original academic distress commission, then state Superintendent of Public Instruction Dr. Richard Ross and, most importantly, Gov. John Kasich, he was viewed with disdain by the so-called leaders of the community.

That experience should serve as a lesson for the district’s new CEO, Mohip: There’s nothing to be gained by appeasing the critics or those who believe they should be in charge.

The so-called Youngstown Plan created by the state law was a reaction to the dysfunction of the school board and the refusal of the special interests to acknowledge the problems confronting the urban school system.

During his visit to Youngstown when he signed his contract and met with the various groups in the district and with members of the public, CEO Mohip held out a very large olive branch. He made it clear he wanted to work closely with administrators, teachers, staff, school board members and community organizations involved in the district.

That’s all well and good, but the academic distress commission, which has spent a lot of time trying to get the system back on track, expects results. The CEO must present the commission with an academic recovery plan.

In other words, the new head of the troubled district doesn’t have the luxury of being distracted by arguments about “Black African Descendants.”