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Academic improvement is district's priority

Lonny Rivera, left, associate state superintendent of public instruction, talks with Superintendent Brian Garverick, Betsy Alexander, district director of state and federal programs, and Stephen Rizzo, district curriculum director.

   On his last day with the Ohio Department of Education an associate state superintendent urged Mansfield City Schools staff on Friday to adopt a sense of urgency about improving the district’s academic performance.

   Lonny Rivera, who served as interim state superintendent of public instruction earlier this year, was the keynote speaker to open daylong professional development sessions for teachers, administrators and support staff.

   Rivera emphasized the importance of improvement to avoid a state takeover of the district academic program, such as what has occurred in the Youngstown City Schools.

   “If things don’t improve within the next two years, the same thing could happen here,” he said. “Teamwork can achieve improvement. It’s the folks in this room that will make it happen.

   “I have walked in the shoes you walk in,” said Rivera, a one-time teacher and elementary school principal. “I know this is a heavy burden to put on you but please take it for what it is. If your hearts are open, if you don’t put up walls, you can do it. I hope you feel encouraged but understand the urgency.”

   In November an academic assessment team from the Ohio Department of Education spent a week in the district, visiting buildings and talking with staff, students and parents. That led to a 74-page review report that outlined district strengths and challenges and recommendations for improvement.

   In March Clairie Huff-Franklin, director of ODE’s Center for Accountability and Continuous Improvement, met with the board of education to review the report.

   “This was never meant to be a ‘gotcha,’ only a means of helping you,” she said then. “In no way are you in academic distress. We are here to be preventive and proactive.”

   Huff-Franklin made it clear that a declaration of academic distress and resulting direct state involvement in district academics could occur if required progress is not made within three years.

   Superintendent Brian Garverick said Friday’s professional development day, the first of five scheduled during the year, is part of the district’s response to the ODE review report.

   “Academic improvement is our priority. We know we have work to do but I am confident we have a plan in place to achieve it,” he said. “I know our staff is committed to it.”

   Stephen Rizzo, recently named district curriculum director, said Mansfield City Schools is one of six districts, out of more than 600 statewide, under ODE academic review.

   “We have two years to improve our test scores. We have one year before the state reports a letter grade for our district. You can have ownership of your learning,” he told staff assembled in the Senior High auditorium, “but we don’t have that much time.”

   Friday’s program included sessions on the Ohio Improvement Process, development of teacher teams and initiatives for teaching math and other core subjects.

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