Schools’ CEO has a plan

No, the headline isn’t a reference to the academic- recovery road map created by Youngstown city schools’ Chief Executive Officer Krish Mohip.

Rather, the headline reflects Mohip’s unflinching determination to fulfill his duties without being sidetracked by the naysayers and special interests.

That resolve came through loud and clear during his hour-long meeting Tuesday with Vindicator writers. He stopped by to discuss the details of his academic improvement plan for the Youngstown City School District.

As he delved into his strategy for pulling the urban school system out of its tailspin, this writer was reminded of comments made in late 2010 by then Gov.-elect John R. Kasich.

Republican Kasich, who had pulled off a political coup by defeating Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland, came up with this doozie:

“I just want Ohio to be great. Please leave the cynicism and the political maneuvering at the door. Because we need you on the bus, and if you’re not on the bus, we will run over you with the bus. And I’m not kidding.”

Not long after that, in a meeting with employees of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency to share his expectations for state government agencies in their dealings with the public, Gov. Kasich had this to say:

“Have you ever been stopped by a policeman who was an idiot? I had this idiot who pulled me over on 315. He’s an idiot. We can’t just act that way, and what people resent are people who are in government who don’t treat the client with respect.”

Underlying message

While the idiot remark grabbed the headlines, Kasich’s underlying message about serving the public resonated with the taxpayers.

Four years after his razor-thin victory over Strickland, the governor won re-election by a landslide.

Youngstown schools’ CEO Mohip reflects the same attitude as Kasich when it comes to addressing the challenges that confront the district.

During his meeting with The Vindicator, the former administrator, principal and teacher in the Chicago city school system, was clear about his priorities.

“All my decisions will be student-based, and, when you make student-based decisions, it sometimes makes adults uncomfor- table,” Mohip said. “I’m not here for anything else or anyone else but the children of this district.”

Who was the CEO talking about when he used the words “anyone else”? That’s easy to answer: Several members of the Youngstown Board of Education who have been nothing but nattering nabobs of negativism ever since a state law enacted last year rendered the board inconsequential.

The law, HB 70, grew out of a group of Mahoning Valley business and community leaders urging the state to intervene to save the Youngstown school district from total destruction.

HB 70, which gave birth to the so-called Youngstown Plan, was passed by the Republican-controlled House and Senate and signed into law by Gov. Kasich.

The law required creation of a new academic distress commission to oversee the recovery of the system.

In 2010, the Ohio Department of Education declared the district to be in academic emergency. It is now under academic watch.

The state superintendent of public instruction appointed three of the five members of the distress commission, while the mayor of Youngstown and the president of the school board each appointed one.

The law required the commission to select the chief executive officer whose authority is clearly defined and could easily be described as dictatorial.

Mohip has the power to hire and fire and to even set aside labor contracts.

But most significantly, he does not have to answer to the elected board of education. He is only required to consult with them.

Indeed, during his meeting with Vindicator writers, the CEO barely mentioned the school board and even that was after he was asked a question about its role with regard to the academic recovery plan.

Mohip said the board does not have the authority to take any formal action on the plan, but members have been provided with copies.

Given the constant bickering among members of the school board, and their participation in a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of House Bill 70, the changes that have been implemented are well justified.

The Youngstown City School District has been on life support for too many years, which is why a complete re-engineering of the system was needed.

Mohip knows that there are individuals in Youngstown who are hoping that he fails, which makes him all the more determined to ensure that his recovery plan is fully implemented – with the support of the academic distress commission.

Indeed, the experience of former Superintendent Dr. Connie Hathorn should serve as a clear warning to the CEO of the mine fields that are in his path.

Hathorn, who came to Youngstown from the Akron city school system, had the qualifications, the experience and the vision to turn the failing district around.

What he didn’t have was the stomach for a protracted battle with some members of the school board.

As an experienced educator, Hathorn was well aware of the challenges confronting Youngstown and other urban school districts in the country. The high poverty rate among students – most of the 5,300 qualify for free lunches – and the large number of single parent households made his job of forging the academic recovery all the more difficult.

Nonetheless, Hathorn launched several important initiatives that, if fully implemented, would have put Youngstown on the road to academic improvement.

But the constant battles with some school board members took their toll and he ultimately gave up the fight.

To be sure, Mohip is in a much better position, given that he can largely ignore the school board and only has to answer to the academic distress commission.

Even so, the CEO cannot ignore the political battle that has raged since the passage of HB 70.

Critics, including Democratic legislators, have railed about the GOP’s actions and have warned that the Youngstown Plan is the first step toward the dismantling of public education in Ohio.

Mohip will be put to the test.

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