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Lorain superintendent: Our district can do better

The Chronicle-Telegram LORAIN — The state of Lorain Schools is weak, Superintendent Tom Tucker conceded in his first State of the Schools speech Tuesday.

In a 55-minute, rapid-fire address, Tucker outlined to Board of Education members his plan to remove the school district from academic emergency and prevent a state academic takeover. He said communication and cooperation between administrators, teachers and parents is crucial.

“Unless we talk to one another, observe one another and help one another, nothing’s going to change,” he said. “We can do better.”

Lorain met just one of 26 standards in the 2011-12 school year. Districts in academic emergency for three straight years are taken over by a state-appointed academic commission.

“It’s our responsibility to make sure that (doesn’t) happen,” said Tucker, who was hired in August.

About 85 percent of Lorain students live in poverty, and 87 percent don’t meet minimum state standards when they enter kindergarten. Tucker said a key to improving academics is through the re-institution of full-day kindergarten, cut last year in eliminating $7.3 million of a $12 million deficit.

Full-day kindergarten was reinstituted last month thanks to November’s passage of a 4.8-mill, seven-year levy that will raise $3.12 million annually. The district is also intensifying math and reading improvement for third- through eighth-graders to improve state test scores.

As part of the “skill building initiative,” board members rehired eight laid-off teachers, who will be paid with federal taxpayer grant money, to work with struggling students. Private grant money will be spent on increasing coordination and efficiency of administrators and reducing duplication.

Tucker said some grants are effective, but the district must reduce its dependence on them.

“Some of the grants we have are in direct conflict with each other,” he said. “A lot of us joke: The good news is that you got the grant. The bad news is the grant. Because with the grant comes a ton of reporting, and you almost have to hire a fulltime person just to do that.”

Tucker said improved alternative education to graduate students at risk of dropping out and better tracking of students who leave the district will improve graduation rates. Tucker, who is promising to downsize the Charleston Administration Center, promised greater accountability and teamwork from administrators, students and teachers and dedication to success.

“It’s hard to put into practice, but those have got to be your guiding principles,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do.”

In other business

Martha Smith, chairwoman of the Bond Issue Oversight Committee, delivered the committee’s annual report. Smith said the district’s $208 million school construction project, begun in 2002, remains financially sound. State taxpayers’ share of the project is 81 percent, nearly $169 million, and local taxpayers’ share is 19 percent, about $39.6 million, through last year. Nearly $137 million has been spent.

Bids for construction of the $73 million new Lorain High School are expected to be sought by the fall or winter. Demolition of the former Whittier Middle School last year cost about $419,000.

Board members approved holding meetings on the second and fourth Tuesdays of the month at 6:30 p.m., switching from the second and fourth Wednesdays, which they approved at their annual organizational meeting in last month. The change accommodated board member Tony Dimacchia’s schedule. Dimacchia, board members Mitchell Fallis and Bill Sturgill and Board President Tim Williams voted yes while board member Jim Smith voted no. Smith said there was no legal precedent for switching meeting dates midyear and votes could be potentially challenged in court.

Contact Evan Goodenow at 329-7129 or egoodenow@chroniclet.com.

LESSON PLAN

In his first State of the Schools speech, Superintendent Tom Tucker on Tuesday presented an ambitious reform agenda. His plan includes:

■ Review all instructional programs and curriculum to improve state test scores.

■ Improve accountability, cooperation, communication and efficiency of staff.

■ Ensure students keep the same teachers and schools when possible to increase stability and enrollment.

■ Run 45-minute block classes geared toward improving state test scores for reading and math for third- through eighth-graders.

■ Targeted after- and summer-school tutoring.

■ Upgrade technology, including a new, user-friendly school district website easier for parents to navigate.

SOURCE: Lorain Schools

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