As key leaders depart, can the Plan stand

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With many of the original players in Ohio’s first state-controlled public school district jumping ship, Youngstown community leaders wonder how to keep the vessel afloat.

Youngstown State University President Jim Tressel said the question remains the same: “How can we keep from losing our school system?”

Tressel was one of an eight-member group that worked with Ohio Department of Education officials on the plan, or House Bill 70, implemented in 2015. It led to putting Krish Mohip in control of the district as CEO under the auspices of the Youngstown City Schools Academic Distress Commission.

But this month, three of those ADC members resigned. Also, Mohip is actively job hunting.

An ODE spokesperson said new members of the ADC are being determined. If Mohip decides to leave, the new ADC will be charged with choosing a new CEO.

Of all this disruption, Mohip said simply: “This work will continue.”

That’s the challenge, said the Rev. Lewis Macklin of Holy Trinity Baptist Church, who is among the community leaders watching the process unfold.

“How do you maintain the gains in this transition or potential transition?” he asked. “What is the plan? Do we revert back to before? Who is going to ensure gains and the structure in place remain as such?”

He added: “The instability creates concern in the community. ... It further erodes trust that was already eroding, realizing that at any given time now [Mohip] may leave. It further fractures something already fractured.”

But Mohip contends his position in or out of the district has nothing to do with its success.

“We are talking about the sustainable systems we have in place,” he said. “It’s not about one person, but about the sustainability of the system we’ve created.”

That’s something Tressel agrees with.

“If Krish leaves, the state of the schools depends on how engaged and how bought-on the people are to implementing changes,” he said. “Just because one person leaves doesn’t mean all things worked on come to a halt.

“I always tell the old story about if you want to know how much you’ll be missed, put your hand in a bucket of water and pull it out. Whatever the hole left in the water, that’ll be how much you’ll be missed. There’s [no hole] because it’s water. None of us are irreplaceable. But that’s not to say he won’t be missed,” Tressel said.

Tim Filipovich, district chief of accountability and assessment, concurred with Tressel. 

“What Krish has done has built a foundation going forward that can be systemic,” Filipovich said. “Now it is dependent on whether the people who remain will be able to follow through.”

Still, the Rev. Mr. Macklin has concerns.

“[Mohip] does have a team in place;however, that doesn’t mean the changes he put in place will remain the same if he’s gone,” he said.

Nick Santucci, one of the two remaining ADC members, said regardless of Mohip’s future, he remains committed to giving Youngstown students their best shot at success and has no intentions of resigning.

The other remaining ADC member is district teacher Vincent Shivers.

The Boulder (Colo.) Valley School District Board of Education announced March 20 that Mohip was not selected for a superintendent job.

In addition, Mohip was not selected for the Fargo (N.D.) School District superintendent position. He is still one of six finalists for the top job in the Osseo Area Schools in Minnesota.

The first round of interviews in Osseo will begin April 2.

Tyrone Olverson, the school district’s chief academic officer, is second-in-charge to Mohip.

Word of his candidacies came at the same time as the exodus from the ADC — the resignations of ADC chairman Brian Benyo, vice chairwoman Jennifer Roller and member Barbara Brothers.

For the interim, the state-appointed deputy Superintendent John Richard, who was once a commission member, has the responsibility of supporting the work of the academic distress commission until a new chairman is designated. Richard will serve as chairman in the interim until the three remaining members are chosen by the mayor (one member) and the state (two members).

After his March 2 resignation, Benyo said he hopes the efforts undertaken so far continue to show progress.

And Mohip, Mr. Macklin, Filipovich and Tressel agree, things cannot go back to the way they were.

Before the implementation of HB 70, Tressel and Macklin both said that things could not remain status quo because it just wasn’t working.

The state placed Youngstown in academic emergency status in 2011. The emergency caused the creation of the ADC and eventually led to the House bill being enacted.

The law’s purpose is to get failing school districts out of academic emergency.

“We can’t keep doing it the way we’re doing it,” Tressel said. “Perhaps let’s bring in a system that promotes improvement in a different sort of way. That began those kinds of conversations about the now state-takeover ... Discussions [that] early on were framed around how [we] can provide more success for our students.”

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