November 28, 2014

Partly cloudy

State still oversees Lorain schools

Roberta Machesky, a Lorain Schools intervention specialist, works on math with Toni Morrison Elementary fourth-graders Ashton Serrano, Ismaya Nair, and Juliana Miranda on Friday. STEVE MANHEIM/CHRONICLE

Roberta Machesky, a Lorain Schools intervention specialist, works on math with Toni Morrison Elementary fourth-graders Ashton Serrano, Ismaya Nair, and Juliana Miranda on Friday. STEVE MANHEIM/CHRONICLE

LORAIN — Their goal is to disband.

But until Lorain Schools test scores improve, the Lorain Academic Distress Commission controls the school district’s academics. Tuesday is the one-year anniversary of the state takeover of Lorain Schools and formation of the commission, which was prompted by four consecutive years of failing test scores.

Lorain and Youngstown are the only Ohio school districts run by unelected, state-appointed commissions.

Among the commission’s powers are the ability to hire and fire, privatize services, approve spending and establish budgets, according to the takeover law. Proponents say the five-member commission has added needed oversight, while opponents say it’s added an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy and been uncommunicative.

Commission Chairman Bill Zelei said commission members, all of whom have backgrounds in education, have brought fresh insight and perspective to the district. He acknowledged the commission, which holds monthly meetings that often run three hours or longer, has added another layer of bureaucracy.

“On the other hand, if things were going extremely well, you’d argue that you didn’t need that level of oversight,” Zelei said. “The reason that the commission got put in place is things weren’t going as well as one would’ve hoped.”

Improved test scores will be the ultimate measure of success. Lorain must score a “C” or higher on the annual state report for two out of three years to regain local control, although Ohio Superintendent of Instruction Richard Ross could disband the commission before that.

However, Zelei said the commission wants to do more.

He said the commission supports Lorain’s goal of bringing back elementary school art and music programs that were cut in 2012 due to budget cuts. The goal is part of an overall strategy to reverse shrinking enrollment in the approximately 7,000-student district that has lost some 3,000 students in the last decade.

The commission also wants to boost attendance and graduation rates and increase the number of graduates going to college. It also is seeking to increase teacher expectations of students in the district where 85 percent of students live in poverty and 87 percent of students entering kindergarten don’t meet minimum state standards.

An academic recovery plan was approved by the commission in August and by Ross a month later. Annual goals include increasing students’ mathematics proficiency by 11 percent and reading by 10 percent on the annual state report card compared with 2011-12 state report card results.

Other annual goals include improving third-grade reading scores by 15 percent to meet stricter state promotion standards and increasing high school graduation rates by 13 percent. Long-term goals include achieving a “C” on the 2015-16 report card. Lorain received an F on the 2012-13 report card.

Monthly meetings sometimes involve minutia. At last week’s meeting, Superintendent Tom Tucker was advised to rewrite the job description in an advertisement for a new Lorain High School principal.

“Do you expect a building principal to handle or resolve a problem?” commission member Cathy Deitlin asked Tucker.

“You guys got that?” Tucker asked his staff. “I don’t have time to do that.”

Tucker was hired in 2012 when Lorain was already close to entering academic emergency. Tucker said he spends “quite a bit of time” preparing for meetings, but said he would be doing much of the preparation anyway for school board meetings.

“It keeps us on track, where we need to be, (but) it’s a lot of time,” he said. “We try to be cooperative and give them everything they need.”

Teachers union President Jay Pickering questioned whether the commission has spent its time wisely. Pickering said the commission’s decision to not televise its meetings has kept the public in the dark. And he said he was disappointed that commission members haven’t responded to his offer to meet with the union to discuss academic problems.

“We were almost wondering if they didn’t want to hear from us,” said Pickering, head of the 450-member Lorain Education Association. “They haven’t been very transparent.”

Pickering said some union members worried that the commission might void union contracts, which it hasn’t done. But he said there has been resentment about some commission criticism such as whether bad lesson plans were causing a lack of learning.

“Our teachers are working very hard to try to accomplish what they think the Academic Distress Commission would like to see them do,” he said. “We’re trying our darndest to work with them.”

Board of Education member Jim Smith said the commission could also work better with the board. Smith said he is the only board member who has attended all of the commission’s meetings.

However, Smith noted the board has not designated a board member as a liaison between the board and commission. Smith compared it to a patient having two doctors who aren’t consulting with each other.

“We all should be on the same team in doing what’s in the best interests of our children,” he said. “The best way to do that is to know what each other’s doing.”

Zelei said a liaison might be a good idea and he said the commission needs more help from the state. The all-volunteer commission has not been able to leverage money for the cash-strapped district other than $68,200 last week for a survey of parents and students. The money was left over from a federal Race to the Top grant distributed by the Ohio Department of Education.

While more state money is unlikely, the commission may be getting more help. Ohio Associate Superintendent John Richard said last week that more districts could be taken over in the next couple of years which is partly why a new, four-member academic distress commission office was recently formed by the department. Richard said the office, which has an annual budget of between $200,000 and $350,000, will provide more support for the Lorain and Youngstown commissions.

“We want to be as through as possible because these are ultimately the worst districts in the state (academically),” said Richard, who worked with the Lorain commission in his previous post as senior executive director of the department’s Center for Accountability and Continuous Improvement. “Ultimately, the goal is that the distress commission exits and it’s handed back to the local board. We’d like to do that more effectively than we’re currently doing it.”

Richard said last year that the commission would need about 2½ years to turn control back over to the Board of Education. Given the nature of the academic emergency law, Richard said commissions are almost always going to be in control for at least three years. “Ultimately, it’s based on what happens with the students’ performance,” he said.

Contact Evan Goodenow at 329-7129 or

Academic Commission members

The five-member, all-volunteer Lorain Academic Distress Commission was appointed a year ago. Commission Chairman Bill Zelei and members Cathy Deitlin and Rosa Rivera-Hainaj were appointed by the state. The locally-appointed members are Henry Patterson and Raul Ramos.

  • Cathy Deitlin is a former Lorain Schools teacher and administrator who also spent 22 years as a Rocky River Schools assistant superintendent. She is the former executive director of Reach Higher Lorain, a nonprofit group working to improve Lorain academics.
  • Henry Patterson is an attorney and Lorain County Community College assistant professor with children attending Lorain Schools. He worked for Lorain Schools from 2000-06 helping prepare students for college.
  • Raul Ramos is an LCCC professor and former Lorain Board of Education member who served for 16 years in the 1990s and 2000s.
  • Rosa Rivera-Hainaj is LCCC’s dean of science and mathematics and serves of the board of El Centro, a Latino community center.
  • Bill Zelei is head of the Ohio Schools Council, a purchasing consortium for 192 Ohio school districts. He previously was a superintendent of South Euclid-Lyndhurst Schools, an Ohio associate superintendent and a 16-year Brunswick Board of Education member.

SOURCE Lorain Academic Distress Commission

  • oldruss

    “Annual goals include increasing students’ mathematics proficiency by 11 percent and reading by 10 percent on the annual state report card compared with 2011-12 state report card results.”

    It’s all well and good to set goals, but HOW the district gets from where it is and has been to where it should be is more important. It’s not that the Board of Education and the administration has not wanted improved test scores, it’s that the LCSD has been incapable of attaining them.

    • Brian_Reinhardt

      But the dominant question should be why an overwhelming majority(95 plus %) of kids are passed from grade to grade but many cannot pass proficiency tests.

      Why is that?

      • oldruss

        It’s social promotion. That said, how do we go from having school rooms full of illiterates to having schools that actually prepare the students to function in the real world? It’s the HOW that seems to escape even the best educators. Perhaps the system is a failure, and scrapping universal public education in favor of vouchers so parents can send their kids to whatever private or charter school will accept them is the only answer.

  • Larry Crnobrnja

    Reading, writing and arithmetic. And real parents.

  • SniperFire

    ‘The goal is part of an overall strategy to reverse shrinking enrollment in the approximately 7,000-student district that has lost some 3,000 students in the last decade.’

    If you fail at teaching kids in your school, why would you have a goal of increasing enrollment?

    • HankKwah

      More money.

  • stillsleepyeyes

    Once again the only thing on pickering’s mind is money……………voiding contracts……….nothing about the children………………

  • Sis Delish

    Two observations.

    1. Recycled educators being put into positions to oversee what they participated in, in the first place.

    2. The photo reveals 2/3rds of the children are overweight, and perhaps are only in school for the free breakfast/lunch and sometimes dinner. Learning subsequently gets in the way of feeding.

    Perhaps what is needed to make things better are student groups which discuss less education and more social issues.

    • Brian_Reinhardt

      Are you kidding me???

      Only in school for the food ?

      Please tell me I misunderstand your comment and that my sarcasm meter is faulty.

      • Sis Delish

        I knew plenty of classmates who’s highest grade was in Lunch.

    • stillsleepyeyes

      Yep that’s it…………starve them and they will learn more……………NOT……..ever think that its probably the only decent meal they receive?????

      • Sis Delish

        I don’t recall any comments which you could logically conclude would endorse starving the students.

        • stillsleepyeyes

          your point number two……………..would convey that you think there fat and only show up for food…………as so one would think your against feedings at school………….and in turn with that knowing 95% of these children go to school hungry……….shall I go on?

          • Sis Delish

            I believe the photo evidence supports my case accurately.

            Again, there never was a call to end the feeding.

            The comments were to question what is more of a motivational factor to some students… if the motivation is not seen in the reported low scoring by the system in its entirety by the authorities, that must be eliminated.

            I inserted another motivational factor for consideration, a basic human motivational factor if you’ve ever studied the Hierarchy of Needs.

            2/3rds of the children look overweight to me and that alone suggests they are eating better than they are learning, again based upon the reporting in the story and the accompanying photos.

  • GreatRedeemer

    From the ODE assessment of last year:

    Summary of ODE
    Findings and Areas of Concern:

    • Alignment of curriculum (program
    & content), instruction, and assessment to OhioStandards, including Common Core, is critically needed throughout the school district.

    • Development of a Strategic Focus& Direction, including mission, vision, and planning that highlights effective leadership and the professional responsibility of all staff for overcoming barriers and increasing student achievement.

    • Identification and implementation of high quality criteria for administrators and teachers, to ensure the hiring and placement of high quality staff in the most effective positions to ensure increases in student achievement.

    • Implement programming and high expectations to eliminate the Culture of Low
    Expectations which currently exists among professional staff, employees and the community.

    • Implement Leadership Initiatives to reduce and ultimately eliminate the resistance to change which exists among a significant segment of the LCSD employee population. (related to previous concern

    Please tell us how this is going.

    • SniperFire

      ‘Please tell us how this is going.’

      Idiot parents = idiot kids. Generally speaking.

  • BroDelish5566

    Hey sis when did your brain quit working? My quess would be breakfast.

  • BroDelish5566

    And…. How many were in your class when you graduated at lunch?

  • Sis Delish

    Here’s a multiple choice question:

    What do Lake Erie Walleye fisherman have in common with C-T Poster going by the name of BroDelish5566?

    A. Nothing.
    B. Flies are attracted to them.
    C. They both Troll.

  • BroDelish5566

    Please, Please tell me you didnt home school your kids

  • BroDelish5566

    Or should i say, your mother really sucks at home schooling

  • BroDelish5566

    Scratch that first one, couldnt be possible for you to marry

  • TheRustyScupper

    We doubt seriously if Lorain Schools will improve much, or at all. They have declining enrollment and do not renegotiate the fixed costs, reduce variable costs, or decrease payrolls. A formula for failure. And the formula is proving correct. So, who do they put in charge of the turnaround? More educators — folks on the government dole. NO business people. NO private industry types. No one but those who grew up collecting public funds and never had to be responsibly for thier actions, or lack of actions. No wonder Lorain, Elyria, and other Lorain County kids can’t learn, and won’t in the future. We don’t need to watch TV to learn about Third World Education Shortcomings, we have them here.