By Amanda Tonoli
Simply having three different leaders in education from different geographical areas in one room discussing public education is “a good step forward,” said Ohio Senate Minority Leader Joe Schiavoni of Boardman, D-33rd.
Schiavoni was talking about himself; Christine Fowler-Mack, chief of New & Innovative Schools and Programs, Cleveland Metropolitan School District; and Krish Mohip, CEO, Youngstown City School District, who were panelists Monday evening at City Club of the Mahoning Valley’s discussion on “The Future of Public Education in Ohio’s Cities” at Stambaugh Auditorium.
Moderator Tim Francisco, professor of English at Youngstown State University, began the discussion by quoting President Donald Trump: “Education is the civil-rights issue of our time.”
Francisco questioned panelists on their views and plans in tackling the big issues public education is facing in the state: House Bill 70, high-stakes testing and privatizing education.
Mohip said he firmly believes education should be left up to the educators, noting that Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is not an educator.
Francisco asked panelists what was at the top of their lists for “critical issues facing [their] education.”
Mohip said regardless of many issues raised in various educational literature he finds, he believes the biggest issue is the lack of people who believe in the children.
“No matter what the arguments are, my No. 1 concern is bettering the expectation we have for our children,” he said. “We need the entire community to come together around what we’re doing. And we have to figure out how to do that.”
Schiavoni’s focus was on the onset of more mandated high-stakes testing.
“We have more testing, and we have all these hurdles teachers have to climb over, and that’s the problem I see when I go into schools,” he said.
Schiavoni said he sees a lot of tense teachers and tense students, and he wants to find a realistic solution.
“When I think about tests, I think about what it told you – what you were good at and what you weren’t good at. Your teacher would say, ‘Joe, you did really good in reading, but you didn’t do so good in science. Everybody, let’s get Joe better in science.’ That’s what testing should be.”
On the subject of HB 70, panelists had opposing views.
HB 70 enables a CEO to lead a school district with state-appointed academic distress commission oversight. Both are now in place in Youngstown.
Mohip told what he called his favorite part of the story coming to Youngstown.
“When I applied for this job, I had no idea what HB 70 was,” he said. “When I heard there was a district in the northeast corner of Ohio really struggling, I remember driving home with my wife after this interview saying, ‘Whether or not I get this job, I want to be connected to Youngstown.’”
Mohip said he felt, and still feels, he has the skills necessary to make the district better, and in this light, he doesn’t see it as a state takeover.
“Well I hate House Bill 70, but I like Krish,” Schiavoni joked.
Schiavoni said this is not because he doesn’t think the Youngstown district is going in the right direction, but when “there is an opening for a CEO to do whatever he or she wants to do in the next district, we need to put safeguards in place, or else you’ll eventually see somebody just do the full takeover immediately, turn all the schools into charter schools and call it a day.”
Fowler-Mack was somewhere between Mohip and Schiavoni. She said although the Cleveland Metropolitan School District strives for good schools, the focus school officials there have is on finding the best schools for each child – charter, private or public.