Reynoldsburg News

Ross wants Ohio to be national education leader

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Richard Ross talked about communication this week as he started his term as Ohio's new superintendent of public instruction.

He said he was fortunate to have spent the past 14 months working with Gov. John Kasich to help shape education policy in Ohio.

"I believe in the work we have done," Ross said. "It is crucial that we get our kids to read. We have to clearly communicate with parents about how our kids are performing. We have to connect kids with career opportunities to keep them interested and engaged in learning.

"I know that these things can help build better futures for our boys and girls," he said. "Actually implementing these changes is essential and I felt I could make that happen by serving as state superintendent."

Ross, who spent two decades as superintendent of Reynoldsburg schools before retiring in 2008, said he would like to ensure that Ohio is a national leader in providing a high-quality education for every child in every district.

He indicated it is likely that he will point to some programs now in place in Reynoldsburg schools as models for other districts.

"There are a lot of great new ideas out there and I think that (Superintendent) Steve (Dackin) and his team are working to be flexible and responsive to the needs and interests of students," he said. "I love what they are doing. I am proud of their work and I wish them continued success.

"One of my goals is to engage with successful school models throughout the state so that we can learn and share with each other," he said. "Reynoldsburg is one of those places."

Ross, 63, will earn about $200,000 annually in his new job.

After he retired from Reynoldsburg schools, Ross chaired the Youngstown Academic Distress Committee, a state panel working to improve student performance in that district. Kasich appointed him last year to head the Governor's Office of 21st Century Education.

The state Board of Education chose Ross in a divided 10-6 vote March 12 over acting state superintendent Michael Sawyers, who was hired March 18 by the New Albany-Plain Local School District as its new chief of operations and strategic development.

Board member Sarah Fowler abstained, saying she couldn't "in good conscience" vote for either man.

Sawyers and Ross emerged as the final candidates from a list of 30 applicants to succeed Stan Heffner, who resigned last August after an ethics investigation found he misused state resources by directing staff members to work on the sale of his home and other personal matters on state time, and by testifying in favor of legislation that could have benefited a company he intended to work for.

The search process revealed blemishes on the records of both Ross and Sawyers, which Fowler cited in explaining why she abstained from voting. However, she said, her primary reason was because both candidates support Ohio's participation in the multistate Common Core academic standards and the federal Race to the Top grant program.

She said some of her constituents in Ashtabula County are concerned the programs undermine local control and don't allow for parental input.

Ross acknowledged to a consultant working for search firm helping the state Board of Education in its search for a superintendent that he had pleaded guilty to driving under the influence after an arrest in Powell on July 3, 2009. He was fined $450, had a three-day jail sentence suspended and had his driver's license suspended for six months.

Sawyers has said publicly that he was reprimanded by Perry Local Schools in Lake County for using the district's credit card to make $858.19 worth of personal purchases in 2010.

Eleven of the 19 members of the state Board of Education are elected to represent different regions of Ohio. Kasich has named 11 members and has one appointive vacancy left to fill. He will also appoint someone to replace board member Jeff Hardin, who died Wednesday, March 13, after a long illness. Hardin was elected in November to a second four-year term.

Catherine Candisky of The Columbus Dispatch contributed to this story.

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