YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – The chairman of Youngstown’s Academic Distress Commission has sent a scathing letter to members of the city’s Board of Education.

The letter accuses some board members of interfering with the potential employment of CEO Justin Jennings with the Akron Schools, and because of the interference, the ADC chairman — Dr. John Richard — has cut off communication between the commission and the board.

At its meeting on Monday, the Akron School Board tabled a motion to hire Jennings as the new assistant superintendent at $183,000 a year.

The Academic Distress Commission took control of the Youngstown Schools in 2016. Jennings is the second person to serve as CEO.

You can read the full letter below.

Youngstown Board of Education members,

I hold the position of elected school board members in high regard, since you are the governance body representing the citizens of Youngstown City School District. I also can understand and appreciate any disagreement you have with the current Ohio statutory requirements around Academic Distress Commissions, although as a Commission, it has never been our focus nor do we enter into discussion on the merit of the statute. Rather, our focus has consistently been on the improvement needed for students’ experiences and opportunities along with the strategies necessary for that improvement. As a result of that focus, the Commission (and me as the chair of that commission) has consistently treated the Youngstown Board and its members with respect and worked to establish trust between the two bodies. I believe we have made a good deal of progress in working together over these past few years through involving board members in the CEO’s hiring process, ongoing communication, establishing a financial advisory committee and even holding meetings together.

Unfortunately, with the unfolding of events as I understand them surrounding Mr. Jennings’ potential employment with Akron Public Schools, specifically the communication between some members of the Youngstown Board with those on the Akron Board, that trust is no longer warranted. At best, some of that communication was uninformed and comments were made out of ignorance. At worst, it was done with malicious intent and deception. Either way, it is potentially damaging without merit to Mr. Jennings’ immediate circumstances, and possibly to his future career. I cannot understand why any individual, let alone one representing the school district, would make such comments.

My apologies to those board member not involved, but I feel very strongly my communication should be transparent and not run the risk of it being twisted or taken out of context.

It remains my hope that we can work together for students’ interests in a manner of mutual trust and respect. Hopefully, we can move forward beyond this incident with the new version of the board after January. However, until that time, there is no reason for further communication between the current board and commission.


Youngstown School Board President Ron Shadd said he received the letter but does not know the specifics of the allegations. Shadd said he tried calling Richard but has not heard back.