'Battle of our lifetime,' says mid-size urban districts leader

Joining Mansfield City Schools at Tuesday’s meeting were administrators and teachers from Alliance, Lima, Maple Heights, Richmond Heights, Sandusky and Warrensville Heights.

      The futures of Mansfield City Schools and other mid-size Ohio urban public school districts are at stake in “the battle of our lifetime,” a Mansfield audience of more than 100 was told Tuesday.

      Administrators and teachers from seven districts gathered at the Mid-Ohio Educational Service Center for a meeting of the Ohio Mid-Sized Urban District Leadership Collaborative.

      Dr. Eugene Sanders, superintendent of Sandusky City Schools and founder of the collaborative, said the Ohio General Assembly controls the destiny of urban districts whose enrollments range from 1,000 to 8,000 students.

      “We are in the battle of our lifetime in regard to what’s going on in the state legislature,” Sanders said. “That battle involves finances, how we are governed, and the (state) report card and how it is measured.”

      Urban districts also seek an end to academic distress commissions which supplant superintendents and boards of education in districts which receive an overall report card F for three consecutive years. Commissions are in place in Youngstown, Lorain and East Cleveland.

      Tuesday’s gathering was titled “Instructional Rounds for Continuous Improvement,” the fourth in a series rotated among the member districts.

      Stephen Rizzo, Mansfield City Schools chief academic officer, did much of the work involved in planning and organizing the daylong session. Most of the day involved educators divided into teams to visit each MCS building to observe teaching and learning practices. The teams reported their observations of classroom strengths, suggested areas for growth and recommendations.

      Rizzo sent the teams on their way with a guiding question: Is the school and classroom environment conducive to learning?

      “We are the fourth district to host Instructional Rounds. The goal is to share ideas and identify practices for continuous improvement in each of our districts,” Rizzo said.

      “In Mansfield we have worked hard over the last several years and have made significant gains on our report card. There is still work that needs to be done. We understand that.”

      Superintendent Stan Jefferson said there are several advantages to the mid-size urban districts uniting to work toward common goals.

      “There is strength in districts of similar size working together,” Jefferson said. “We are united by the similar student populations we serve and the challenges we face. Our core mission is to advance continuous improvement in each district while uniting in a strong voice to the legislature and the Ohio Department of Education.”

      Mansfield Board of Education president Renda Cline and Brad Strong, president of the Mansfield School Employees Association, agreed.

      “The bottom line is our students and what is best for them,” Ms. Cline said. “We must hold the legislature accountable and make sure what candidates (for office) support.”

      She urged support for Ohio Senate Bill 89, which would eliminate most new EdChoice vouchers based on a flawed report card system and shift the program to one based on family income. The bill also would dissolve academic distress commissions and restore local control of the Lorain, Youngstown and East Cleveland school districts by June 30.

      Strong said urban districts must change.

      “We’re at a tipping point. Change will come, either good or bad,” he said. “Urban education can’t keep doing what we have been doing. We must change. Our students and our communities are worth the fight.”

      Sanders closed by cautioning that those who favor continuation of the academic distress commissions have a powerful lobby.

      “But we still need to make a strong, loud voice about how the flawed state report card is put together,” he said. “The more we stand together, the stronger our voice will be.”

      Tuesday’s program also included a panel, moderated by Jay Allred, president of Richland Source, which discussed how school districts can work with community partners to provide maximum opportunities for all students.

      oining Jefferson on the panel were:

      -- Dr. Eugene Sanders, Superintendent, Sandusky City Schools

      -- Mansfield Mayor Tim Theaker

      -- Dr. Norman Jones, Dean and Director, Mansfield Campus, Ohio State University

      -- Dr. Dorey Diab, President and CEO, North Central State College

      -- Deanna West-Torrence, founder and director, North End Community Improvement Cooperative

      -- Brady Groves, President, Richland County Foundation

      -- Sherry Branham, Associate Director, Richland County Mental Health

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