By Emily Mcintyre
and Kevin Kelley
Parma City Schools Superintendent Jeffrey Graham, who has emerged as the top candidate to succeed Dan Keenan as Westlake superintendent, said it’s not his leadership style to dictate goals and policies. Instead, he said, his approach to implement a collective vision reached through communication.
“I want to be in a district that will allow me to know all of our teachers, our sports staff, parents, students and community members,” Graham said during a Westlake City Schools Board of Education meeting Monday night. “It’s not my place to come in and dictate what my goals are, what my vision is for Westlake schools, or the other schools. It’s my job to gather stakeholders together, listen to what your vision is, to help create a plan, and it is my job to get us there.”
The school board announced Friday that Graham was its top candidate to become the district’s new superintendent. The other three finalists were Westlake High School Principal Tim Freeman; George Fisk, of the East Palestine City Schools; and James Kallis, of the Riverside Local Schools. The district received 25 applications in all.
In addition to Monday’s school board presentation, Graham will meet Wednesday morning with representative groups of teachers, administrators, parents and community members. Board members say they plan to consider the opinions of these groups when making the final hiring decision. None of the other finalists are scheduled to make such presentations.
School board President Carol Winter and board member Tom Mays noted they visited the Parma district to speak with community members and groups of teachers, administrators and parents about Graham’s leadership there.
“Across the board, they all said that what stands out for them, the service in their district, is his lens of looking at decisions,” Winter said. “They spoke about Dr. Graham in the same way that we speak about Dr. Keenan. He’s done quite a bit to help the community feel connected to the schools.”
Graham’s financial stewardship and ability to garner support for operating levies appears to have carried weight with Westlake board members. In May 2011, the Parma district passed a 6.9-mill operating levy. The previous seven levy attempts failed. Six of those attempts came before Graham’s arrival there in 2010. The Parma district also passed a 3.7-mill renewal in May.
During his presentation Monday night, Graham spoke of the crisis the Parma district faced. Between fiscal restraints limiting students to the bare minimum of the five credits per year required for graduation and the consecutive failed levies, a cry for help emerged within the district, he said.
Graham gave credit to the employees of the Parma schools for pulling out of the crisis. “Together, we got Parma back on the right track,” Graham said. “Since that time, we recreated a school district.”
Graham earned his undergraduate degree in education from Kent State University. The former Marine holds a graduate degree in secondary education from The University of Akron and a doctorate in educational leadership with a concentration in the superintendency from Ashland University.