After passing a November levy and navigating a barrage of state education directives, the Akron school board this week issued a largely favorable evaluation for Superintendent David James.

The board noted a few administrative deficiencies, among them improvement needed in engaging the city and community in the districtwide school construction project and build his communication with members of the school board.

“Communications with the board has been a challenge,” the board collectively said in James’ evaluation. “Many things have been last minute and tough to digest [communication job position; Central-Hower transfer]. Challenges exist over the board finding out pieces of information late or reading about it in the news media.”

The evaluation also indicated that the board is “concerned about timing of the start of our next phase of the [$800 million] school reconstruction process. More public discussion needed.”

The school board did reach out to city council during a joint meeting in April. Council voiced concerns about sharing the Community Learning Centers, paid for in part by a city sales tax, as well as lacking input and updates on when and which schools would be demolished.

Aside from communication issues, James’ evaluation was largely positive.

“Overall, we think Superintendent James is moving APS forward. High goals and standards have been set and now the implementation has to happen. The challenge is to have the state not continue to throw more and more things at the target but to give him a chance to work,” the board stated.

James’ assessment precedes this year’s teacher evaluations. New teacher ratings will rely equally on principal observations and the performance of students, even those who are absent for up to a quarter of the school year, or an entire grading period.

State lawmakers have also passed legislation that requires Ohio schools to identify and provide intervention for kindergarten through third-grade students who are not reading at grade level. Third-graders at the end of this school year who score below a 392 on the reading proficiency test would be held back from fourth-grade reading instruction. The state plans to gradually increase the cutoff score to 400, or proficient, over the coming years.

The state also has required Akron and all Ohio schools to spend millions of dollars to prepare for online testing under the nationally aligned Common Core curriculum, to be implemented fully by the 2014-15 school year.

Ohio Department of Education Superintendent Richard Ross, who helped shape many of these reforms working under the governor, has said he will not request additional legislative changes this fall on top of what is being asked of school administrators and teachers.

“I think the field would just like to go through an implementation and not have major changes,” Ross told Gongwer News Service on Monday.

Akron administrators have characterized the swarming mandates as building a plane as its being flown.

Board members have fielded concerns from teachers who must adjust instruction to adhere to the new curriculum and training.

But even as the board has negotiated teacher evaluations with the Akron Education Association, the district remains without a labor contract for teachers.

“Major stumbling blocks throughout negotiations have been salaries, insurance and binding arbitration,” according to an AEA newsletter update.

Union and district officials will present their cases on Oct. 8 to a fact-finder, who will in turn produce a nonbinding recommendation to both parties. Teachers are working under the provisions of the previous contract, which expired in July 2012.

Moving forward, the board said James has handled “the toughest job in Akron” with “deliberation and integrity.” The board noted its own challenges as four members’ terms expire this fall and three seek re-election.

“This is a relatively young board with the reality of at least one more new person in the next six months,” the board wrote in James’ evaluation. “Keeping the board informed and up to speed in as many ways as possible will be crucial not only with this new person but with the members who have served two years or less. Finding a way to continue to bridge the gap of those who do this full time and those placed with the trust of governance could prove difficult without good communications to the board.”

Doug Livingston can be reached at 330-996-3792 or dlivingston@thebeaconjournal.com.