CANTON REPOSITORY | Apr 11, 2019 @ 9:32 PM | By Kelli Weir
Jeffrey Graham, the finalist for Canton City school superintendent, answered roughly two dozen questions Thursday on topics ranging from student behavior to keeping the district from being taken over by the state.
Glenda Willis believes it’s too soon to know whether Jeffrey Graham will make a great superintendent for the Canton City School District.
But after listening to him answer questions from the community for roughly 45 minutes Thursday, she believes he should get the chance to try.
“I think he did give some really good answers,” said Willis, who has two sons in the district and wanted to hear how Graham would increase parent engagement and accountability. “He’s not going to have all the answers today. He doesn’t know everything about our district yet.”
But the decision to hire Graham as superintendent didn’t come Thursday. School board members met in a closed-door session for 45 minutes after the community question-and-answer session but returned only to announce that the board would meet again at 5 p.m. Tuesday in the commons of McKinley High School’s downtown campus.
Willis was one of roughly 80 people to attend Thursday’s question-and-answer session with Graham, who became the sole finalist for the superintendent position Monday when Alliance City Schools Superintendent Jeffery Talbert withdrew his name from consideration.
The session, moderated by Steve Horton from the Ohio School Boards Association, included two dozen questions ranging from addressing bad student behavior to recruiting more qualified substitute teachers to keeping the district from being taken over by the state because of low student test scores.
In nearly every answer, Graham, currently the regional superintendent of Cleveland Municipal City Schools, stressed the importance of working with those affected by the issue, listening to their needs and then developing a plan together that would be executed with fidelity and clearly communicated.
Graham said, if hired, he would not seek to overhaul the district.
“I don’t think it makes any sense, regardless of where the district is with House Bill 70, to make wide sweeping changes,” said Graham, referring to the state legislation that became law that allows the state to take over a district after three years of failing student test scores. “I think we need to listen and make adjustments based on the feedback that we get from all of our stakeholders.”
Graham said he plans to make himself available to the public. He said in a previous job he scheduled a block of time to be available to anyone who needed to address an issue with him. He also routinely visited school and community groups to listen to their needs. He pledged to visit every school building in the district by the end of his first school year.
When asked why he is choosing to come to Canton, Graham said the people he knows from Canton, such as former Canton City Schools Superintendent Fred Blosser, speak proudly of the city.
“There’s an essence of resilience and pride and I just want to be a part of it,” he said.
Christina Johnson attended the session with her daughter, Gabriella, a student at Cedar Elementary, to make sure Graham would put the students first if he’s hired.
“It doesn’t matter what we (adults) all say,” said Johnson, whose son, Jerry, is a fifth-grader at Harford Middle School. “Think about it, our opinions are just opinions. What matters is our children, the future.” She left the meeting feeling optimistic that Graham would be a good leader.
“I think he’s going to be fine,” she said. ”... Put him in the hot seat and let them do their jobs and we’ll go from there.”
Board President John “J.R.” Rinaldi said Thursday was the first time in 12 years the community had an opportunity to give feedback on a superintendent candidate, noting that the district’s previous two superintendents were hired without public input.
But Cleo Lucas, a longtime educator who retired from the district in 2003, criticized the school board for not giving the community a choice between two candidates. She believes the board should have known to select three finalists in case one of them dropped out and it should have named another finalist after Talbert withdrew his name from consideration. Her suggestions drew applause from a few others in the audience.
Rinaldi said the board chose not to name a second finalist because they believed Graham and Talbert were the top-tier candidates and choosing a third candidate would have been disingenuous.
Emil Alecusan, chief financial offer of Brewster Cheese, said he supports the board’s decision to move ahead with one finalist. He also commended Graham for the quality of his answers.
“Welcome to the family,” Alecusan said to Graham.
Reach Kelli at 330-580-8339
On Twitter: @kweirREP