LORAIN — The recent violence at Lorain High School isn’t the full picture, the district’s CEO said at his first town hall meeting of the school year.
At the meeting, David Hardy said characterizations that the high school is unsafe are incorrect after a string of fights earlier this month.
“We have had fights at our high school,” he said. “There is no denying that. There’s no denying that we have to improve the quality of the learning environment at our high school. However, what is not true is that it is out of control. That is not true.”
Hardy said while there have been numerous fights this year, the number of suspensions is actually down from previous years.
According to data displayed at the town meeting Thursday, there have been 28 suspensions for Lorain High School students and five suspensions for students in the school’s alternative program, New Beginnings Academy.
In the 2015-16 school year, the two combined had 247 suspensions in the first quarter. In 2016-17, that number dropped to 183 and last school year it rose again to 260.
“You’re probably saying that’s after nine weeks and we’ve not had a full quarter,” he said. “If you were to say we’re at the halfway mark and then you double those numbers and even add five, we’re still about 50 to 60 percent less in suspension-related offenses in our school.”
Hardy said he believes the district is being more stringent on enforcing expectations and some of the suspensions that have occurred this year are part of action being taken before a physical fight has even taken place.
Hardy also addressed the continuing tension between his administration and the school board. Since Hardy was named CEO last summer and his position grants him most of the powers usually attributed to a school board, the two have been at odds.
“I think a lot about adult psychology and I went to this website just to do some research because I thought maybe I wasn’t thinking about this interaction the right way and it outlined the tendencies if people who are attempting to put people in difficult situations,” he said at the meeting. “It had the characteristics of people who do things like name-calling and spreading of misinformation and creating fear and it said you should not give those folks attention because when you do, you’re going tit for tat, and I refuse to do that given all of the things we have to work on.”
Hardy said if he felt the school board was having “productive and fruitful” conversations he would be more open to having conversations with them, but right now it just doesn’t make sense for him to attend the board’s meetings.
“In October, I asked them if we could just talk and the response I received was ‘I don’t have the authority to do it,’” he said. “There’s been attempts to speak and we all know as adults, if you feel like you’re going to be attacked, you’re probably not going to walk into that room. And I don’t want to be attacked, and I don’t want our folks who are working really hard every day to be attacked. Unfortunately, Josh, who works as the treasurer, has to be there but other than that I choose education over politics.”
Hardy said he empathizes with the board, but the challenge is he’s on a ticking clock to turn the district’s academics around and with “so much to get done for the kids” it’s something he needs to prioritize first.
In response to Hardy’s comments, school board president Tony Dimacchia said the CEO was “arrogant” and was “Lorain’s ECOT,” referring to the statewide scandal from earlier this year in which the online charter school had to fold after struggling to pay back funds to the state for misleading the Ohio Department of Education about the number of students enrolled.
“It will just be a matter of time before the people that actually care about our kids and schools start to realize what is really going on here,” he said in a statement. “There is no name calling just factual statements about the mess this guy has created. Just factual statements about the inexperience and unqualified people he has brought here to destroy our district. Just factual pictures of the violence that he so eloquently says doesn’t exist. We have proof of his failures.”
Resident Rhoda Lee said the citizens of Lorain should have tried to stop the implementation of House Bill 70, the state law that put Hardy in power, more than they did but now that they’re in this situation, they need to make the best out of it.
“Nothing was done in terms of stopping it,” he said. “We did not band together and go to the legislature that we didn’t want this to happen, and I think it’s unconstitutional in the way that it was done. But then no one did anything. We only did something after the fact. Stop and think about what’s going on around us. This isn’t Mr. Hardy’s fault. You can’t blame him.”
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