July 22, 2014

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Lorain Schools impresses state panel

LORAIN — Members of the state-appointed Academic Distress Commission came away from Monday’s meeting with Lorain City Schools officials impressed with the district’s plans for righting itself and getting out from under state control in the next couple of years.

Tucker

Tucker

“This is very comprehensive,” Commission member Cathy Dietlin said of Superintendent Tom Tucker’s presentation during a three hour-plus meeting at the Charleston Administration Center.

“We want students to not just be proficient, but to be advanced and accelerated,” Tucker told the commission, in describing the detailed plan which took almost five months to construct.

The schools have until Aug. 20 to submit an academic recovery plan to the state.

The commission told school officials at the first meeting between the groups on April 22 that it would likely take about 2½ years to make enough improvements in Lorain schools to restore them to local control.

John Richard, senior executive director for accountability and continuous improvement of the Ohio Department of Education, said the district’s plans reflected “a sense of hope, an air of anticipation and a true sense of mission and purpose.”

Lorain is only one of two Ohio cities, Youngstown is the other, whose schools are currently overseen by the commission.

The session was the second between Lorain school officials and the Academic Distress Commission, which was formed after the district was deemed to be in academic emergency in February after it failed to show adequate annual progress in four consecutive school years.

Lorain schools were ordered to improve overall academic performance, boost graduation rates and improve performance of minority and disabled students.

Developing a rigorous curriculum that sees major student improvement in math, reading and state achievement tests are key components of the district’s plans, Tucker said.

Among the areas of proposed changes and improvements Tucker presented Monday to the commission, were proposals to offer counseling to students with attendance and behavioral problems, as well as help those identified as potential drop-outs.

Other possible steps include partnering with Lorain County Community College to offer an associates degree program through Lorain High School, restore a science, technology, engineering and math academy, and form an arts academy within the next two to three years, according to Tucker.

Such efforts are designed to help reverse the exodus of more than 1,600 students from the 6,185-student district since 2001 for community or alternative schools.

The meeting also saw figures which dispelled what commission members said is the oft-held misconception that school systems have too many teachers.

Lorain has seen its teaching ranks plummet through layoffs in recent years from 374 to the current 227 instructors.

The figure is 20 teachers below the 247 required to meet state standards of 40 teachers per 1,000 students.

“You are certainly not over-employed,” Fred Walter, area coordinator for the Ohio Department of Education told the gathering. “Your staffing levels are all well below other (comparable) districts.”

Quarterly progress meetings will be held with building principals to keep plans on track, Tucker said.
The state commission has set the next meetings with the district for June 21 and July 8.

Contact Steve Fogarty at 329-7146 or sfogarty@chroniclet.com.