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CEO outlines goals for Youngstown schools

YOUNGSTOWN — Justin Jennings, less than three months into his tenure as Youngstown City Schools CEO, told the Youngstown Academic Distress Commission that his executive staff is working to improve student literacy, overall teaching and reduce absenteeism among students and employees.

Jennings told commission members Tuesday that the district is looking at the hiring process to make sure new employees are qualified for the positions they are seeking. In addition, Jennings also noted it is reviewing all positions to make sure employees have the qualifications to hold the positions they are assigned.

“We cannot pay somebody that is not certified for their position,” Jennings said. “That includes teachers, counselors and the CEO.”

The district is changing its policies and procedures for how it hires people.

“We are making sure jobs are posted and candidates have to be interviewed,” he said. “This was not always happening.”

Jennings said the administration has removed employees that did not have the qualifications.

The CEO also said he wants to place an emphasis on both literacy and truancy.

“Truancy is not only focused on our scholars (students),” he said.

Jennings described learning on Monday that 74 district employees would not be at work.

“If they are not in front of our scholars, how are they to achieve?” Jennings said. “How do we get our staff members to be at their schools and on time?”

Paula Valentini, a vice president with the Youngstown Education Association, defended her union members to the commission, saying the vast majority — greater than 70 percent — are highly qualified, but were disrespected and placed in highly stressful situations by the last CEO, Krish Mohip.

“We had a lot of good teachers leave the district because how they were being treated,” she said. “It was a rough three years. We have some awesome teachers in the district.”

Jennings also plans to reduce the amount of times teachers are doing professional development programs during regular school hours.

“We’ve already talked to Mahoning Valley Educational Service Center about not scheduling professional development during school hours,” he said.

While agreeing that improving attendance among district employees is important, distress commission Chairman John Richard said he read a study that companies across the U.S. have problems with absenteeism on Mondays.

“It is not a Youngstown schools problem,” he said.

In focusing on literacy, Jennings said the the school district will not only look at reading, but also writing and speaking.

“Literacy is really, really huge for us,” Jennings said. “So many of my scholars do not have the language piece.”

He emphasized that literacy cannot be focused only on the early grades, but through the 12th grade, because if students are being left behind in the early grades, it will affect them in the upper grades.

rsmith@tribtoday.com