LORAIN — A year after finding a “culture of low expectations” in Lorain Schools, a new Ohio Department of Education assessment is more positive.
However, the 49-page report, released at a joint Lorain Academic Distress Commission/Board of Education meeting Thursday, said much needs to be done before the district can get out of state academic takeover. Lorain’s academics were taken over by the commission last year in response to low state test scores.
Ohio Associate Superintendent John Richards, who has overseen the takeover, said the report, compiled by a seven-member team May 12 to 16, was a snapshot rather than a full portrait. He said the report was intended to be critical to spur change, but it found reasons for optimism. Richards said the district is at a tipping point.
“If you can work with the momentum gained, you will see things really start happening over the next couple of years,” he said. “There’s been a great deal of work accomplished in a very short amount of time, (but) you will not change the culture, you will not change the practices that that may have been embedded for 10 or 15 years or more, overnight.”
The report said Superintendent Tom Tucker has promoted a “culture of high expectations” since taking over in 2012. Staff said there was a “difference of night and day” between Tucker and former Superintendent Cheryl Atkinson.
“Creating a culture of optimism and stability impacts the outlook and productivity of (Lorain Schools) employees as they look to improve current practices,” the report said. “Employees will work to help sustain the operation of the school district.”
The report praised the district for removing ineffective administrators and teachers and reducing truancy by 50 percent since the start of the 2012-13 school year. It said “instructional coaches” are improving teacher skills with a data-driven approach.
However, some teachers feel overwhelmed by data, changing curriculums and a perceived over-emphasis on test preparations. “It was also emphatically stated that, “Kids are just getting burned out on tests,’” the report said.
The report noted the district was unable to meet commission goals in the 2013-14 school year of increasing student math proficiency by 11 percentage points and math by 10 percentage points compared to 2011-12 scores or increase graduation rates by 13 percentage points. Nonetheless, the report noted there had been small gains such as a 4 percentage point increase in third-grade reading assessments and a nearly 5 percentage point increase in graduation rates.
It criticized the commission for aiming too high. “Failure to set realistic and unattainable goals diminishes the accomplishments of students and staff,” the report said.
While saying overall morale has improved, the report said some administrators complained of a top-down mentality. School principals complained of not being given input in teacher hiring and said they often first meet new teachers on the first day of school.
With 80 percent of teachers having 18 years of experience or more, the district is expecting many retirements in the next several years. The report said recruitment and retention of young teachers needs improvement.
Lorain must get two C’s on the state report card in two of three consecutive years to get out of the takeover. With overall student proficiency requirements rising from 75 percent to 80 percent, Tucker said after the meeting it’s unlikely Lorain will get C’s on the 2013-14 report card scheduled to be released later this month.