By Amanda Tonoli
The Lorain City School District is set for success, its leader says.
The district is on the cusp of enacting a similar plan to the Youngstown City School District’s so-called Youngstown Plan, or House Bill 70, in mid-2017. The plan became law in June 2015 and states any school district with three years of failing grades issued by the state will no longer be run by the local school board.
Youngstown, for example, is instead led by a chief executive officer and overseen by a state-appointed academic distress commission, although its elected board of education remains in place.
Tom Williams, president of the Lorain Board of Education, said Lorain schools suffered after the state added three tests to its evaluation of districts, which increased “academic rigor,” while the district already was in academic distress.
Lorain went from achieving A’s and B’s in the key areas that focus on progress to all F’s on the 2015-16 report cards.
“While our teachers and students are making great gains, we didn’t meet those benchmarks,” he said. “Now we are working closely with the state to ensure a smooth transition so that together we can have a positive impact in Lorain.”
Brian Benyo, chairman of the Youngstown City Schools Academic Distress Commission, explained that every community will respond differently to implementing HB 70.
“In some regards, the situation here in Youngstown has been more difficult because it’s more contentious to radical changes,” he said. “I really don’t know if the situation is the same anywhere else.”
The need for state regulation – the distress commission – in Youngstown and Lorain schools comes after they received all or almost all failing grades on the state report cards for the 2015-16 school year. The report cards display six component grades upon which the state evaluated districts and schools. The components include achievement, progress, gaps between highest and lowest grades, graduation rate, K-3 literacy and prepared for success.
The difference in Youngstown and Lorain’s school districts is that Youngstown had consistent low scores in all sections over the course of three years, and in Lorain, the district went from high-scoring progress components to low-scoring.
Progress measures previously were based on state test results in math and English language arts in fourth through eighth grade, according to the Ohio Department of Education’s website. For the 2015-16 school year, the progress measures add state tests in fifth- through eighth-grade science and sixth-grade social studies, as well as math and English language arts’ end-of-course high school exams.
Though some school districts were protected by a “safe harbor” provision for scoring lower within the changed progress component, Lorain was not because it already was in academic distress.
The Lorain Academic Distress Commission has been in place since April 2013.
Williams is optimistic about improving the school district through HB 70.
“Our community is engaged,” he said. “We’re putting in place wraparound services to bridge the gap that poverty creates. And while the state tests keep changing, we are closely following student growth through consistent state-approved vendor assessments. And from what we’re seeing there, we know our students are seeing more than a year’s worth of growth. What’s happening in our classrooms is working. It’s just not happening fast enough, and we own that.
“Our focus right now is to ensure a smooth transition to what happens next. We feel that if we can continue to keep our community engaged, and if we can ensure institutional memory is maintained, then we can be a real success story.”
Krish Mohip, Youngstown schools chief executive officer, mirrors Williams’ optimism.
The Youngstown Plan “is working really well here; I mean, look what’s happened,” he said. “We are providing high-quality education and having honest discussions. It’s encouraging great things to happen.”
Unlike Mohip and Williams, Benyo said he still has concern as to whether everyone involved in the Youngstown district is acting in the best interest to see the schools succeed versus their own self interests.
Benyo, however, is excited to move forward to see the Youngstown Plan through.
“I feel overall we’ve accomplished a good deal of work getting the school year off and started,” he said. “The new administration under the CEO and everyone [are] starting to understand how to work together on new goals and agendas.”