LORAIN — One of the Lorain school district’s incoming turnaround principals has yet to receive the necessary license to be a building leader.
According to the Ohio Department of Education, Kejuana Jefferson, who was selected last Friday to be the turnaround principal for General Johnnie Wilson Middle School, does not have a principal’s license nor does she have a middle school teaching license.
The state Education Department’s website also does not indicate that Jefferson has applied for an administrative license that would allow her to be a principal for kindergarten through 12th-grade students, as she indicated on her resume submitted to the district.
Jefferson’s only listed license is one for teaching preschool through third grade and is set to expire June 30.
When reached by phone Wednesday, Jefferson said she had recently finished her last class required for her administrative license and would receive it May 5, but any other questions should be directed to the district.
Jefferson’s resume also indicated she works for Canton City Schools but, according to board minutes from the district, Jefferson’s job offer to work in a middle school after-school program was rescinded in December.
Current principal Bryan Hilko was a finalist for a turnaround position but did not receive a final assignment. According to ODE, Hilko has a five-year principal license set to expire in 2021 and a five-year license to teach fourth- through ninth-graders in mathematics, reading and social studies, which is set to expire in 2021.
The 22 finalists, 11 of which were internal candidates, for the 14 positions were interviewed by community panels earlier this month. Principals for Southview Middle School and Lorain High School have yet to be selected, and Hilko confirmed he was not in the running for those positions.
Parent Robbie Sand said she was one of the people on the community panel for the General Johnnie Wilson Middle School turnaround principal, and while Jefferson was the panel’s second choice, she was not the unanimous first choice.
“I found (Jefferson) to be an interesting person and I liked her upbeat attitude,” she said. “But did I find her to be the most qualified person? No. Nikole Davis, who currently heads up New Beginnings Academy, was our first choice.”
Sand said Davis has a background in psychology, speaks Spanish and lives in Lorain — all of which were pluses to the panel.
“There’s definitely a lot of diversity in our district, and her ability to speak Spanish is definitely a plus,” she said. “She can communicate with a portion of our population that doesn’t always receive effective communication. Everyone indicated that she was the best fit, and she hasn’t even been selected for any positions.”
Sand said the fact that Davis hasn’t been selected has her convinced the entire selection process was a facade and that Hardy’s real concern wasn’t family and community engagement.
“The panels were just to make it appear as though it was,” she said. “I don’t feel like our thoughts led to the results. Everyone talks about transparency, but I don’t think there was in this process.”
Hilko, who is a graduate of Lorain Admiral King High School, said he had no comment on the search for the district’s new turnaround principals but he’s happy with the direction CEO David Hardy is taking the district.
“I support David and his team’s decision,” he said. “The entire selection process is and was one of the best processes to find leaders for our buildings.”
The turnaround principal is designed to focus on a school building’s instructional needs rather than day-to-day managerial ones with two deans — one for academics and another for student and family engagement — being added as well.
School Board President Tony Dimacchia said he’s not surprised by Jefferson’s lack of license, saying many of Hardy’s choices for positions are not qualified.
“To hire someone with no qualifications for the position? It’s extremely disappointing,” he said. “We have principals in this district who have come up through the ranks as teachers and to send them out without cause? I’m just very disappointed.”
Dimacchia said the entire situation “turns his stomach” and does more to show that Hardy is gearing up to turn the Lorain school district into charter schools, which he is allowed to do after two years, according to the state legislation that put him in power.
“Charter schools do this sort of thing all the time, so why not in Lorain?” he said. “It started in the central office and now it’s happening to the building leadership, and I have a bad feeling for our teachers.”
Neither Hardy nor Academic Distress Commission Chairman Tony Richardson, who heads the only entity in the state that can hold Hardy accountable, responded to requests for comment.
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