Lorain City Schools is the second Ohio school district subject to the provisions of HB 70. Knowing that Youngstown Schools fought HB 70 and litigated, mostly to no avail, the leadership of Lorain Schools chose to work with the Ohio Department of Education to make the transition as painless as possible.
The academic standards required by HB 70 were impossible to achieve in 2 years so the district operated as if there was a new Academic Distress Commission since HB 70 was passed.
The district created and adopted a detailed plan to turnaround the schools. The plan included wraparound services, community support, staff buy-in and private donations. The plan was working – enrollment was up, discipline was down, parents and students were more engaged. The problems facing Lorain, however, much like other urban districts, were not going to go away in two years.
The leadership of Lorain asked the ODE to accelerate the CEO appointment because the fear of the unknown was hurting staff morale and some staff was starting to look for positions elsewhere. While the ODE indicated it would accelerate, it actually waited until the last possible day to appoint the new Academic Distress Commission.
The ADC hired a search firm with strong ties to charter schools. The candidates for CEO were largely tied to that search firm and to charter schools. The CEO selected from out of state has a background in charter schools and all indications are that he is headed toward making part or all of Lorain Schools into charter schools.
Once hired, the CEO started the entire community engagement and planning process over, effectively negating the hard work from the last two years. The CEO must make the district look as bad as possible so he can take credit for growth in just 2 years – and the parents, staff and children are caught in the middle.
This experience is important because it shows there is no negotiating with ODE to do the right thing for students. There are many at the state level who do not understand what poverty does to education or that there is not a cookie-cutter approach to driving student achievement.
Public school districts facing HB 70 now know that either approach – combative or collaborative – doesn’t matter to the state. This makes HB 70 a self-fulfilling prophecy because as staff finds out that the CEO can fire them at any point, they look for new, more stable, jobs. Districts in distress will face difficulty in attracting staff because their job could be eliminated. Districts will be unable to attract strong and talented staff at the time they need a great team the most. This is the adverse effect of HB 70 in very real terms.
And – it isn’t over. Once the CEO leaves and there is Mayoral control of the School Board, the local community will inherit whatever changes or damage was done by the CEO, will have to pay whatever the CEO spent, and will have to rebuild the local trust that eroded when the local community lost their voice. Meanwhile, the children and public education suffer.