By MARK M. SWEETWOOD
Bouyed by recent Youngstown City Schools data indicating students are showing up more and performing better, a fired-up Gov. John Kasich told The Vindicator: “It’s like the sun’s coming out.”
The governor, in a frank session with editors, was emphatic about his continuing support of House Bill 70, the so-called Youngstown Plan he signed into law in July 2015. It allowed Youngstown schools CEO Krish Mohip and Lorain schools CEO David Hardy to be put in place. State-appointed academic distress commissions hired the CEOs.
“This is just amazing,” Kasich said of the early results. “And what shocks me is that there are people there who somehow want to destroy this program.
“And it’s beyond me.”
Students in second through 11th grades are tested with the Northwest Evaluation Association assessment in the fall and winter to gauge academic growth.
On May 10, The Vindicator reported NWEA reading-assessment results show 4 percent gains of students in the average achievement bracket, 2 percent in the high average bracket and 2 percent in the high bracket.
In yearly attendance, the city schools have shown a 0.7 percent increase in attendance, from 90.3 percent to 91 percent; and 0.6 percent decrease in tardiness, from 4.9 percent to 4.3 percent, from school year 2016-17 to 2017-18.
So far in May, attendance is the highest it’s been in three years at 90.28 percent, compared with 2016-17’s 88.45 percent and 2015-16’s 88.01 percent.
Also, grade-point averages are on the rise.
Chaney and East high schools’ GPAs have both risen from 2.697 to 2.831 and 2.199 to 2.726 from 2016-17 to 2017-18, respectively.
Youngstown Early College’s average GPA increased from 3.457 to 3.468 from 2016-17 to 2017-18.
“When you look at East High School, the lowest performing high school,” Kasich said, “the GPA [was] 1.9 in [2015-16]. It’s at 2.7. This is just unbelievable.”
“Those people in Youngstown [who] really are concerned about the kids and the future of the community have got to celebrate some of this.”
Kasich said the ongoing opposition – most recently witnessed Wednesday when school board members from Youngstown and Lorain met in Columbus to protest HB 70 – is “not rational.”
Further, he decried efforts such as the one by state Reps. John Boccieri of Poland, D-59th, and Michele Lepore-Hagan of Youngstown, D-58th, who worked last week for an amendment to Senate Bill 216 to place a moratorium on the creation of academic distress commissions across the state.
The amendment does not affect Youngstown City Schools but would stop further takeovers of public schools across the state.
“Anything that would come to my desk that would have anything to do with eroding this plan, I would veto,” Kasich said, adding: “Not only would I veto, but I would veto with all of the vehemence inside of me.”
Noting there’s just about seven months left in his term, Kasich challenged the community to step up and support the school system’s ongoing transition.
“I’m willing to do what I can to help, but at some point it’s out of my hands,” he said. “I also think it’s time for community leaders to gather and be very clear about how they feel about this.
“This is the time,” the governor said.
MOHIP COMMENDS GOVERNOR
“Contrary to the baseless opinions of some, the measures put in place in the Youngstown City School District through HB 70 are working,” Mohip said in a statement. “I applaud Gov. John Kasich for having the courage to stand up and do what is right for children. His leadership and vision have allowed Youngstown to move past the adult barriers that have stood in the way of our children’s success for far too long.
“Without the changes made possible by the law, the children of Youngstown would have continued to languish academically — or worse — as they had for the 15 to 20 years before the law,” Mohip continued.
“HB 70 is good for children, and those trying to slow it down or stop it are not thinking about the shackles of failure that are gripping some of our most at-risk children. The governor is to be commended for continuing to stand behind what’s best for children even when that measure might be unpopular among some adults.”
The CEO added: “Locally-elected officials can have their full voices back at the table, but only after the failures of adults no longer affect our children’s education.”
At times this year, the city school district has been the focus of controversy and headlines that were not always about academics. In March, Academic Distress Commission chairman Brian Benyo, vice chairwoman Jennifer Roller and Barbara Brothers, the mayoral selection on the commission, all resigned within days of one another. That month also saw Mohip embark on a highly publicized search for a new job in such places as Fargo, N.D., and Boulder, Colo.
In April, The Vindicator learned the Ohio Department of Education opened an investigation into Mohip after Benyo made an allegation of “inappropriate conduct with a female attorney and/or job applicant,” according to ODE records. Mohip then issued a statement calling Benyo’s allegation “baseless” and “just the latest mud they have hurled at me in an attempt to get something to stick, to destroy HB 70 and to regain control of the school district.”
Kasich said there’s nothing he can do about Mohip’s job hunt.
“It’s in your hands. I understand the guy’s been in a lot of attacks and under fire and everything else,” Kasich said. “There’s only limits as to how much a human being can take.”
The governor suggested that communities stand behind CEOs parachuted into communities and put into difficult situations.
“... you don’t want to throw the whole program out,” he said.
Both the Lorain and Youngstown CEOs have attracted attention because of attachments to Atlantic Research Partners and Educational Research and Development Institute. In February 2017, Mohip contracted with Atlantic to perform a principal search, and he was a paid consultant from 2014 until August 2017 for ERDI.
Mohip has since quit being a paid consultant for ERDI.
While Kasich said he isn’t eager to relegislate HB 70, he is open to improvements – even an executive order – to clarify the ethics aspects.
“We don’t want conflicts,” he said. “Obviously, we don’t want anybody playing footsie with somebody. That’s not what we want.”
He also spoke highly of city school district teachers.
“My understanding is there are a number of teachers that have been heroic,” Kasich said. “That’s how these scores have gone up. Wouldn’t it be great if you could actually begin to reward these master teachers ... these teachers who are sticking their neck out and working and sweating and bleeding for the kids to be able to get a reward?”
In 2017, Youngstown Education Association President Larry Ellis said “no” on behalf of 518 district teachers to a 7-percent raise.
At the time, Mohip said he proposed the raise in recognition of teachers’ dedication and “to acknowledge [their] flexibility and commitment” to the strategic plan.
It’s a move Kasich supports.
“The numbers are just really good,” Kasich said. “How did that happen? It clearly happened because of the teachers.”
As for the Youngstown Plan, Kasich urged The Vindicator to tout the statistics and “say to the community: Enough is enough. If you want to kill the progress here and you want to hurt the kids, you go right ahead and try” — suggesting it would be over his and Senate Republican leadership’s “dead bodies.”
“What is it that they don’t like? What do they want to do – go backwards? I don’t understand it.”
His message to the community is a simple one: “I’d love to tell you that I can fix [the city schools]. I can’t fix it. Nobody in Columbus is gonna fix it. It has to be fixed where you live.”
“We gotta get the leaders to stand up,” Kasich said. “The clergy, the business leaders — they gotta get their voices out there.”