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Deadline looms for Youngstown schools’ improvement plan

YOUNGSTOWN — Two of the three school districts in Ohio under state control are expected this week to have at least the first draft of their academic improvement plan turned over to the Ohio Department of Education.

The Youngstown Board of Education is meeting Wednesday with district administrators to finalize what it wants in the first draft of the plan. It is expected to be sent to the state before Sept. 14.

East Cleveland, Lorain and Youngstown school districts are each working on an academic improvement plan (AIP) that will be used by the ODE to determine whether they will be ready to move away from state control. The final versions of these plans must be approved by the state by the end of September.

Once approved by the ODE, the boards of education in each of these districts would by the end of this school year regain local control over the operation of the districts, including the selection of their superintendents.

The chief executive officer positions will, for the time being, be eliminated.

But even if the state approves the plans, if districts fail to achieve agreed-upon benchmarks, they can return to state control and be assigned new CEOs.

Academic distress commissions will continue to monitor the progress of the school districts.

Marva Jones, a senior executive director with the ODE, told Youngstown school board members during a joint meeting with the academic distress commission on Thursday that they need to bring their differing views on a variety of topics to the middle, so they can continue to move forward.

The Youngstown school board has been reviewing 23 benchmarks established in the district’s current strategic plan, so it can establish timelines and benchmarks that will be used to measure the level of improvements being made over time.

It has had a series of community meetings with residents, religious leaders and other stakeholders in which they received input on what changes they believe are needed to move the school district forward.

School board President Ronald Shadd expressed confidence the locally elected board, working with the administration, will be able to complete the AIP in time for state officials to review it and provide the district with necessary feedback to make it better.

Shadd on Friday was involved in a telephone meeting with Youngstown schools administrative staff and the ODE in which they were able to discuss what already has been done in writing Youngstown’s achievement plan.

“A lot of the feedback we received confirmed we are moving on the right track,” Shadd said. “We found some areas that need to be addressed in different ways.”

Board member Jackie Adair, however, said she questions whether the input the board received during the various community meetings has been used.

“From where I stand, the ideas presented at those meetings do not appear to be incorporated in the plan,” Adair said. “The plan should talk about what needs to happen with children in an urban setting. It should include ways of raising them, especially black males, from the bottom. What are we doing in the plan to close the academic achievement gap?

“I have no confidence in the plan,” she said. “It is just a bunch of words with very little accountability. What happens if we don’t meet our targets?”

Shadd emphasized that many of the concerns addressed by residents and others will be addressed in outcomes from the academic improvements being measured by the plan.

OTHER DISTRICTS

Mark Ballard, president of the Lorain school board, said CEO Jeff Graham, board members and the commission began working on its AIP before Gov. Mike DeWine signed legislation providing a pathway for the districts to move from under state control.

“We were a little bit ahead of the curve,” Ballard said. “We already had been talking back and forth when the legislation was still being drawn up, so we could have a workable plan.”

Ballard noted having a true working relationship with the CEO has been vital to the board’s ability to develop a plan.

“It is impractical to believe something like this can be done if there is not a working relationship between the board the CEO,” he said. “We assume all of these men like their jobs and want to keep them. They do not want to lose their jobs.”

Graham is Lorain’s third CEO. He served as the district’s superintendent prior to the state’s takeover.

“We had community forums on what residents want to see in the schools while the last (interim) superintendent was here,” Ballard said.

Lorain has provided representatives of the ODE with its improvement plan, reacted to the response sent back to Lorain and then sent the plan back to the state for another review.

There have been three to four versions of the original plan, Ballard said.

“We are expecting a final plan to be completed this week,” he continued.

Mary Rice, a member of the East Cleveland Board of Education, said the board will be meeting with the state superintendent and ODE representatives today to discuss the first version of its improvement plan being sent for review.

“We’ve had three town hall meetings that included community members, religious leaders and neighborhood leaders,” Rice said. “We feel the development of our plan will meet the needs of students and the community.”

Rice said board members had a retreat near the end of July to put in place the road map they wanted to take in coming up with the plan.

“We used, as a base, the district’s previous school improvement plan,” Rice said. “The board did a lot of the work in the community and, after sharing the information, allowed our CEO to do a lot of the writing of the plan.”

They basically tweaked and reframed some of the thinking already in it.

“It is how it will be implemented,” Rice said.

Rice, too, said it’s imperative for the board to work closely with the CEO.

“We are a small community, so we cannot just talk a good game,” she said.

rsmith@tribtoday.com

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