LORAIN — Schools superintendent Jeff Graham has officially said goodbye.
In a Wednesday email addressed to Mayor Chase Ritenauer as well as school board members Tony Dimacchia, Tim Williams, Bill Sturgill and Mark Ballard, Graham said he was saying farewell with “deep and genuine sadness.”
“I was asked many times during my short time in Lorain what it was that I loved so much about our district and community,” he wrote. “My answer remains unchanged from my first day as superintendent to now: Lorain is a place where everybody hugs everybody and they mean it. And over the course of the past two and a half years, my feelings of respect for our community and passion for serving our students, families and staff has continually grown. ‘Lorain Pride’ is more than a catchphrase here — it’s a way of life. And I will miss it dearly.”
Graham came to the district in 2015 and fell victim to state House Bill 70, a piece of legislation passed that places a virtually all-powerful CEO in school districts under academic distress, making superintendents and school boards practically obsolete.
David Hardy was selected to become the CEO in July, a position that Graham also applied for.
At the end of November, Hardy announced in an email that Graham was leaving the district for other opportunities, but Graham said he didn’t sign the agreement to leave until last week.
Hardy did not respond to a request for comment on this story.
In the letter, Graham thanked the staff of the district, saying they had a “tireless commitment to our students and their trust in collaboration as we worked together to meet the needs of those in our care.”
“The Lorain City Schools is fully representative of the community it serves: strong, resilient and talented people who freely make personal sacrifices for the benefit of others,” he said. “I have every confidence in your ability to ensure our students succeed.”
Graham said the school board and Ritenauer supported the Lorain schools community with “unquestionable honor.”
“What’s more, they consistently demonstrated themselves to be selfless leaders — people who made every decision based on what they believed to be in the best interest of children of Lorain,” he said. “I admire their unwavering support and the dignity with which they represent our community.”
Dimacchia said Graham is an amazing educator who always put the students of Lorain first.
“His unfortunate release from the district due to the current situation and the CEO’s inability to utilize him as an educational leader is a great loss to not just the students but to the teachers, staff, and the community as a whole,” Dimacchia said. “His unwavering commitment to our community will never be forgotten. I just want to thank him for all that he is done in his short time in Lorain and wish him nothing but the best of luck in his future.”
Ritenauer said he wishes Graham the best moving forward and echoed Dimacchia’s statement that he always had acted in the best interest of the district and students.
“Jeff was never given a chance at the onset, as his first day in Lorain was the day HB 70 became law,” he said. “I hope the other districts on the precipice of distress are taking note as they are next in the line of the state’s attempt to run local schools despite no long-term state education plan.”
Ritenauer said with the governor’s race looming in the fall, he hopes “that the result of the race will provide the long-term solution to HB 70 rather than the current approach taken by Columbus.”
In the letter, Graham said he wanted to thank the schools community as a whole.
“From day one, you welcomed me and treated me like family,” he said. “Your hospitality is generous, kind and wholly unforgettable. I am honored to have shared this time with you.”
Graham said his contract is still being paid through its end in July but through the Educational Services Center of Lorain County, where he will be working in the coming year “to support and the many districts on the path to being identified in academic distress.”
“But please know you will always have a friend and supporter in me, no matter where I make my professional home,” he said to the community.
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