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CANTON REPOSITORY  |  Apr 10, 2019 @ 5:24AM  |  By Kelli Weir 

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CANTON At least on paper, Jeffrey Graham meets much of the key criteria that Canton City school board members, staff and residents have said they want in their next superintendent.

Graham, regional superintendent of the Cleveland Metropolitan School District, isn’t a newbie to the educational scene or to a leadership role. He brings 19 years of leadership experience, holding positions from associate principal to superintendent and regional superintendent. He’s spent the past eight years in urban school settings such as Cleveland, Lorain and Parma city school districts.

He also has classroom experience. Graham spent six years as a physics teacher, first at Highland High in 1993 and later at Wadsworth High.

Graham, who lives in Cuyahoga Falls, became the sole finalist for the top position of Stark County’s largest and most diverse school district on Monday when Alliance City Schools Superintendent Jeffery Talbert decided to stay at Alliance and withdrew his name from consideration. The Canton City school board expects to name the district’s new leader no later than its May 20 board meeting.

While Graham’s resume provides a glimpse into his background, it doesn’t give any insight on his views regarding student discipline, how to raise student achievement or on other issues that Canton City school employees and residents told the school board’s search consultant that were important to them.

So, the Canton Repository asked Graham about those issues. You can read his answers below.

Residents also can meet Graham in person Thursday. He will participate in a community question-and-answer session at 6 p.m.

WHAT: Question & answer session with Jeffrey Graham

WHEN: 6 p.m. Thursday (Doors open at 5 p.m.)

WHERE: McKinley High School’s downtown campus (the commons) at 521 Tuscarawas St. W

WHY: Residents can meet the district’s new potential superintendent.

Question 1: If you are hired as the next Canton City Schools superintendent, what would be your approach toward student discipline?

Graham: “The strength of the district’s Positive Behavior & Expectations framework is due in large part to its creation with extensive staff input. The plan focuses on providing progressive interventions and consequences designed to help students learn from their mistakes, with an emphasis on protecting instruction time for all students. Although the goal is to ensure that not every issue results in the removal of a student from class or school, it acknowledges that some student behaviors warrant immediate high-level consequences.

As I understand it, the plan has not yet been fully implemented. I would work with our leadership team to determine how best to roll out the program with fidelity districtwide.”

Question 2: Would you live in the school district? Why/why not?

Graham: “Long story short, I would need to maintain a residence where my children are required to attend school as a provision of the shared parenting plan I’ve had in place for the last 10 years. And my wife and I would establish another residence in Canton because we believe it is important to insert ourselves in the community we serve.”

Question 3: What strategies would you use to increase parent and community engagement?

Graham: “I believe in the power of engagement as a means of truly understanding the expectations of the community we serve and then working with stakeholders to meet those expectations, including: a listening tour, a communications audit, developing a plan and keeping our promises.”

Question 4: Can you provide an example of where you helped raise academic achievement?

Graham: “In Woodridge, we improved our rating on the local report card from Continuous Improvement to Excellent with Distinction while closing the largest achievement gap of any school district in the state at that time. In Parma, we were able to maintain our rating of Excellent with Distinction while passing the largest operating levy in the district’s history (after seven consecutive failed attempts) enabling the district to re-create its academic program.

In Lorain City Schools, we were given just seven months to convert F’s on our local report card to C’s – an accomplishment that was statistically unlikely. Even so, our team’s plan was recognized by Dr. Michael White who served as the assessment expert for the (Ohio Department of Education).”

White, in his assessment report, commended Lorain, writing that it should be held up as a “light house district” and that the district’s road map to academic recovery should be broadly shared.

Question 5: What is your current perception of Canton City Schools?

Graham: “Everyone I’ve spoken with about Canton has emphasized the high number of dedicated, talented staff – many who are also graduates of Canton City Schools. There’s something very special about a school community which graduates high quality students who return to give back to their city.”

Question 6: Beginning as early as middle school, students feel increasingly less engaged and interested in school. How would you seek to reverse this trend and have schools be the places of inspiration, passion and engagement?

Graham: “Students are disengaged from school for a number of reasons. Although there are many research-based strategies to improve school culture and provide opportunities for children to connect with their schools, there is no quick fix. We need to engage our students to create, implement and monitor a structured plan.”

Question 7: Can you provide an example of where you worked with an employee union to produce a positive result that helped move the district forward?

Graham: “The reality is, every initiative that truly moves a district forward comes as the result of a collaborative effort with staff.”

Graham also provided a response he received from Michael Jaszczak, past president of the Parma Education Association.

“During our first meeting, we agreed that our relationship would be based upon respect, trust and truth,” Jaszczak wrote. “We were able to do a lot of really good work together. Much of that was due to the fact that we could trust each other’s word. We implemented professional learning communities, completed a major redistricting, fixed a confusing elementary schedule, created true middle schools, and tweaked the high school schedule leaving room for time for our teachers to collaborate. As a result of our strong, working relationship, we were able to settle our next contract in two hours.”

Reach Kelli at 330-580-8339 or

On Twitter: @kweirREP

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