In Support of Lorain City Schools
The following letter, submitted by community leaders in Lorain, showcases community support for granting the Lorain City Schools an extension of time to continue their Academic Recovery Plan under its new leadership, which began in August 2015. Provides specific explanation and documentation of District progress.
Lorain City Schools has been in Academic Distress and subject to the Lorain Academic Distress Commission [LADC] since 2013. The LADC has adopted a rigorous Academic Recovery Plan (ARP) and has updated the ARP annually with input from the Ohio Department of Education and based upon student and community needs. The District and LADC have built a strong relationship, and the District is implementing the ARP with urgency and fervor. As a result, the process is working – scores are rising, achievement is higher and lead indicators are moving in the right direction. The LADC, the Board of Education and the Administrative Team have developed a history of collaboration in serving the needs of students and community.
In October 2015, the Legislature modified the ORC related to the Academic Distress Commission. This modification prescribes that districts that are in Academic Distress for 4 years fall into the second level of Academic Distress including a reformulated Academic Distress Commission, the appointment of a CEO and the systematic removal of governance from the local community. There are grave concerns, among Lorain leaders, community members, parents, stakeholders and educators that this second level of Academic Distress will undermine the progress that has occurred with the district, by systematically removing local control, rather than continuing the process of strengthening the organizations which are needed to effectively provide local governance control. Given the fact that progress, related to student achievement, school culture, community engagement and effective local governance is being made, it will be counter-productive to change the current model of Academic Distress guidance, support and oversight. Further, the goal of the ORC related to the second level of Academic Distress is not to have the state of Ohio or the Academic Distress Commission assume governance control forever. Rather, the goal is to provide tight oversight and control until significant improvements can be developed and control can be returned to the local governance structure.
Community leaders, stakeholders and parents believe that the current Academic Distress process is producing improvements in student achievement, school culture, community engagement, and local governance. These community leaders, stakeholders and parents believe that the District cannot afford to lose focus on improving achievement. The community respectfully requests the Legislature to provide the District an additional three years of current LADC oversight, under the current Academic Distress Commission, without a CEO, to allow a true measure of progress through several years of consistent test methodologies and grading.
The following is an explanation and documentation of the progress cited above as justification for a change in the current Academic Distress timelines.
Academic Recovery Plan (ARP) Successful Implementation
Academic Recovery Plan – LADC adopted an Academic Recovery Plan [ARP], that has been updated several times, most recently in December, 2015. The ARP includes the implementation of Evidence Based Best Practices in support of the Third Grade Reading Guarantee, State Assessments, Graduation Rate, College and Career Readiness, and Community Engagement. The ARP focuses on improving Academic Instruction and Rigor, College and Career Readiness, School Culture and Cultural Competency, Professional Learning Communities, Community Engagement, Staff Retention and Recognition. The ARP is focused on improving student achievement as evidenced by the reliance on ODE and legislative initiatives and programming.
Academic Recovery Plan Approval - LADC adopted the Academic Recovery Plan [ARP] most recently in December 2015. It was approved by the State Superintendent of Public Instruction in March 2016. The Board of Education, Administrative Team, staff and employee associations are working diligently to implement all facets of the ARP for the citizens and students of Lorain. This is evidenced newspaper articles, the 2016 ODE District Review and noted by the Lorain Academic Distress Commission at monthly meetings since October 2015.
ODE District Review - The ODE District Review, dated April 2016, reflects the diligent work, by the Board of Education, Administrative Team, staff and employee organizations, in owning and implementing the ARP.
Student Achievement Scores are Improving
Local Report Card - The most recent Local Report Card (2014-15 LRC) rated the District an A for Value-Added. This is the second successive year of an A rating and the third successive year of a C or better on Value Added. During this same time period, similar districts received many F grades and did not show the progress which Lorain showed. The students and staff of Lorain City School District have out-performed peers in similar school districts, as evidenced by the 2014-2015 LRC.
District Benchmark Assessments - State-approved vendor assessments, designed to align districts with Ohio’s New Learning Standards, show consistent student growth. In Math students achieved a 5 point gain, in Reading a 3.8 to 5.5 point gain and in Social Studies a 3.49 to 5.94 point gain.
Third Grade Reading Guarantee - The District is on track to promote over 96% of Third Grade students in 2015-2016 school year, with 89% already qualifying for promotion. Internal tracking data shows that in a year-to-year comparison, the district is 7% ahead of its promotion rate for the same timeframe in 2014-2015.
The Community is Working Together
Levy Passage and Community Support - With the support of the Board of Education and Administrative Team, the community passed a renewal levy in November 2015. Residents of Lorain have passed three school levies since 2011. This community financial support, in addition to providing financial stability, has resulted in the ‘Pride of Lorain,’ the construction of a new high school to be opened in August 2016.
Financial Stability – Conservative projections show positive ending cash balances through fiscal year 2019. The District is in the best financial shape in the last twenty years. The District has clean financial audits and has incurred zero audit citations in three of the last four years.
Community Engagement – Since August 2015 the District has conducted a comprehensive community engagement process, receiving significant input from all sectors of the community. The process included community leadership interviews, over a dozen community stakeholder listening sessions, and staff, student and resident surveys. In all, more than 1000 individuals were engaged through this process. Stakeholders provided input regarding ‘what is working,’ ‘what gaps exist’ and ‘what can be done better.’ The input became the basis for improvements throughout the district in service to students and the community. Evidence of these improvements include a new partnership with local healthcare agencies to provide school-based health care, increased preschool offerings, expanded parent engagement opportunities, expanding programming and communication for families who speak languages other than English in the home, and creating a Community/Business/Schools Partnership to better match the resources in the community to the needs within our schools.
Community Leadership Support – The Community Engagement process has resulted in renewed support for the District, for the maintenance of local control by the Board of Education and for the continued support and oversight of the current LADC. This is evidenced by newspaper articles and signatures below showcasing support by the Mayor, City Council, business leaders, foundation leaders, and Lorain County Chamber of Commerce.
Community Support for Student Achievement – The Community Engagement Process has resulted in Foundations, Businesses and Organizations joining together in support of student achievement. This is evidenced by the expanded involvement of the Boys and Girls Club of Lorain, Lorain Port Authority, Lorain Public Library, Youth Opportunities Unlimited, Lorain County Children and Families Council, Lorain Historical Society, Lorain Palace Theatre and El Centro in the Lorain City Schools. It is also evidenced by the Community Foundation of Lorain County, Stocker Foundation, Nord Family Foundation, and Nordson Foundation support for the arts, school-based health care and other initiatives, as well as renewed support from local businesses and the Lorain County Chamber of Commerce. It is also evidenced by the presence of Lorain Community College, for high school students and adults, in the new Lorain High School in August 2016 and community partners working to provide wraparound services for students and families in August 2016. These services will be coordinated by a Community Connector and will address unmet student and family needs, to provide the best chance for educational success.
Staff, Stakeholder and Union Support - The District, through a collaborative effort of the Board of Education, Administrative Team, Staff and Union, secured changes to the Collective Bargaining Agreement that will provide for flexibility in teacher assignment, flexibility in teacher professional development, and flexibility in teacher seniority and employment rights. These changes will permit the growth of an environment that places student achievement ahead of adult needs and desires, and will ensure that students have the opportunity to achieve their highest potential.
Based upon the above, the LADC believes that Lorain City Schools are making progress and needs the consistency and stability of the current ADC process for the ARP to continue to work. The LADC, Lorain community leaders and stakeholders believe that changing the current course of action will set the district back and harm children’s progress - something we know the State of Ohio does not intend.
Safe Harbor Provisions to Address Changing Test Methodologies Do Not Apply to Lorain
The Legislature acknowledged that shifting test methodologies, in ORC 3302.03, can lead to lower test scores by adopting a 'safe harbor' provision for all districts except Lorain and Youngstown. Based upon this reality, it is appropriate that the legislature provide a three-year 'safe harbor' provision for the district to allow the current LADC and the Academic Recovery Plan to continue working.
In Lorain, there is unprecedented local commitment to turning the schools around and ensuring the LADC process works.
Research shows that changes to standardized testing affect test scores, particularly in lower socio-economic areas. Experts agree that when standardized tests change, scores initially drop, particularly in students from lower grades and from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. Further, as state tests have been changed, it has been impossible, due to a lack of time, to properly prepare students for the tests.
The Ohio Department of Education acknowledges this phenomenon. In Ohio’s Learning Standards and State Tests Overview, the ODE recognized that test scores would be lower for some students on the 2014-2015 assessments: “[The] new test measure complex, real-world skills such as critical thinking, problem-solving and writing that are given increased emphasis in Ohio’s Learning Standards. This means that scores on the 2014-2015 tests may be lower for some students.”
The General Assembly directed the Ohio Department of Education to transition to new tests for the 2015-2016 school year in mathematics and English/language arts. As part of the transition to new tests, the legislation included a number of 'safe harbor' provisions to protect districts from any potential onerous impact related to the change. The 'safe harbor' provisions acknowledge the potential phenomena of decreased test scores with the introduction of new tests. Importantly and unfortunately, the 'safe harbor' provisions do not apply to Lorain City Schools, leading to Lorain being one of the only districts held accountable for scores that initially may not accurately reflect true progress.
An Extension of Time Will Help Lorain Students Achieve and Have Consistency
In summary, the Academic Distress Commission process is working in Lorain. The District, on behalf of the Lorain Community respectfully requests that the Legislature provide an additional three years before a CEO is appointed, during which time the District will continue improving and raising educational offerings for all of Lorain’s children.
Mayor Chase Ritenauer, City of Lorain
Dr. Roy Church, Lorain County Community College
Tim Williams, LCSD Board President
Dr. Bill Zelei, Lorain Academic Distress Commission
Tony Gallo, Lorain County Chamber
Brian Frederick, Community Foundation of Lorain County
Dr. Jeff Graham, Superintendent, Lorain City Schools