A man with a plan: David Lawrence, Principal Thurgood Marshall HS

(A disclaimer: I’m biased. Live with it. I’ve been friends with David for years.)

I predict that within 3 years, Dayton’s Thurgood Marshall High School will be a school of first choice, much like the vaunted St. Ivers (I mean Stivers). And, I’ll be surprised if the parents of the students attending don’t know it as soon as this school year begins. The question will be: How long will it take for perceptions to change- and the word to get out.

Thurgood Marshall is a new Dayton Public School brand, to clean up what was a bit of a mess at Col White. The name change was phase 1, the new building on Hoover was phase 2, and the new team in charge is phase 3. The Phase 4 is buy-in from the rest of the staff. And there will be buy-in.

The reason comes by way of David Lawrence, a man who doesn’t leave anything to chance. A Dunbar grad who still holds the City record in the long jump 25 years after graduation, and who looks like he could still could jump 25.5 feet, he has moved through the Dayton Public Schools as a math teacher at grades 4-12, a curriculum coach, an assistant principal at Stivers and now with two hand-picked assistants is going into the new school with his standard operating procedure: Figure out best practices and desired outcomes, set high expectations and then work tirelessly to get everyone marching in step.

It will happen. Mark my words.

When asked to coach basketball, even though he’d played for years- David immediately read everything he could on coaching the game. Next up, a few coaching clinics, then he wrote out a practice schedule for the entire 3 months- including both the drills and the skills that were the objective of each day. In his first year, he won coach of the year and the team went 17-3.

That’s the power of a man with a plan. It’s also what seems to be missing from so many other organizations we talk about on this site. What’s the plan for Dayton? The region? I think we’ve had so many master plans drawn up, both publically- like the “Vision 20/20” plan way back, to the ones in the backrooms that give us things like “Tool Town”/”Tech Town” or “Ballpark Village”- which waste time, resources and distract us from the basics. And, what’s missing from all our pie-in-the-sky master plans is a leader to champion the progress and keep the ship on course, but, that would of course require real change (like UniGov) and we’re too afraid to take a real jump.

Concentrating on the basics is the foundation of building successful organizations. That’s what’s about to hit Thurgood Marshall like a tsunami. If you want to be on the winning team there, you’ll be asked for a plan, given a performance standard and then “coached” by a pro on how to achieve the goal. Every step of the way, your performance will be monitored, and if you are running into troubles- help will be near. Every day, Principal Lawrence and his team will be making the rounds of the classrooms- checking in. Discipline isn’t just in punishing those who step outside the lines, discipline is setting goals and working tirelessly towards them. Parents will get a home visit, students will be expected to perform, and there will never be a question of what the expectations are.

Why? Because it’s all in the plan.

And, although he doesn’t believe in luck, I wish him the best of it in his new position.

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18 Responses

  1. David Lawrence July 6, 2008 / 5:22 pm
    Your memory is great…Thanks, I appreciate the relatively accurate picture of what we are trying to do.
  2. Alan Scott July 7, 2008 / 7:41 pm
    Much like your hero-worship of Hindy Gruber; principal over one of Dayton Public Schools consistently worst performers but heroic director of a Ball-Room Dancing program that taught a handful of Junior High kids that probably couldn’t read at an 5th grade level to move like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers; you have once again proven that you don’t get it. If being a good basketball coach (and being Dave Esrati’s buddy) makes you ready to turn a high school around, the I expect to read a post from you tomorrow hailing Dunbar Basketball Coach Pete Pullen as the logical choice for Superintendent, after all he won the State Championship twice in his first 2 seasons as coach of the Wolverines. I am sure that this new principal is a nice guy, but all you gave me is a ‘shoot for the moon’ sales pitch on a very under-performing stock, DPS. If you are looking for a school that will be under a new and exciting management style, not just another principal with the same set of union-driven teachers and CYA driven administrators, look at Ruskin Elementary – now run by East End Community Services with oversight over the principal and Staff, not beholden to the DEA or Board of Ed.

    P.S. Why don’t you hail the Dayton Schools that are already schools of choice, the Catholic ones?

    P.P.S. Where do you predict Thurgood Marshall’s Academic Rating to be in 3 years? They met exactly 0 out of 12 State standards in 2007, Stivers met 11 out of 12. Pretty bad return on the $39 million investment the good people of Dayton have put into the students at Thurgood Marshall, $25 million new building and $14 million to instruct the 1,000 students last year (DPS spends $14,000 per pupil per school year). Maybe you should address that next time you bitch about a municipality giving money to assist businesses.

  3. David Esrati July 7, 2008 / 9:50 pm

    @alan
    You obviously haven’t met David Lawrence.
    Watch what happens to the State Standards at Thurgood Marshall- without being nervous at all, I’d bet the house, and predict that Thurgood Marchall will be meeting at least what Stivers met this year- 11 of 12.
    I’d be surprised if it doesn’t meet all 12.
    There is a difference between EDS when it was run by Ross Perot, and after it was bought by GM. Had to do with leadership.
    Ross Perot once said- (rough quote)- “anytime you find something extraordinary being accomplished, you’ll find a monomaniac on a mission.”
    David Lawrence is a monomaniac on a mission incarnate.
    I don’t know what kind of axe you have to grind- but, while you thought you were chopping at a stump, you just hit a granite boulder.
    Ruskin will do well too-
    but, if you want to see a turn-around, mark my words, this will be it.

  4. Alan Scott July 7, 2008 / 11:27 pm
    Axe to grind? You cited his basketball coaching record as reason he will turn around a high school. A high school that by the way, currently meets zero of the states minimum standards for competency on all levels. The smart money is on Ruskin because they will have local control and oversight like DECA did and like Catholic Schools do. If this David Lawrence individual gets push back from his building staff, i.e. teachers union, what is his recourse? How is his situation any different than the dozen other ‘monomaniac’s on a mission’ that have tried to change things over the last 3 decades only to find that the system won’t let them? Ruskin represents a complete system change and you should root for it to take off. Because when it does every other school parent still left in the City will want site-based control of their neighborhood school and oversight over the staff and principal. That will represent a complete system change city-wide, and that is what is needed. I am sure that this David Lawrence fellow is a top notch person, but heap the praise on him after he has done something other that win 17 high school basketball games. Is that fair? I heard a lot of this same boisterous talk out of you when you were running for your party’s nomination earlier this winter, when things didn’t turn out as you had predicted, you blamed a broken system, I fear you may end up doing the same thing here.

    P. S. You assume much when you assume I don’t know my way around the Dayton Public Schools. And if I am too quick to swing the axe when you crown the next administrator for sainthood because of something non-academic when the schools they are suppose to be running are failing at EVERY level, you should know its because I’ve been much more than a Johnny-Come-Lately without any skin in the game. That’s more than be said about most people on this board when it comes to the Dayton Public Schools.

  5. David Esrati July 8, 2008 / 12:01 am

    @alan-
    I cited his basketball story as an example of how he approaches a task, not as his credentials.
    You apparently don’t understand the concept of a metaphor.
    Pushback? You obviously have never seen how a leader leads.
    As to my efforts in politics- maybe it’s you who misses the big picture. One day, I’ll clue you in.
    How did Stivers go from nothing to meeting 11 standards? Same union, same employees- but, you obviously haven’t met Erin Dooley.
    Same sort of monomaniac.
    You also seem to have missed that David Lawrence has done his time in the trenches- teacher, curriculum coach, assistant principal. I dare the first teacher to tell him students aren’t meeting the OGT requirements because the students are stupid.
    Won’t happen. Not on his watch.

  6. Alan Scott July 8, 2008 / 9:10 pm
    No David, Once again your reach goes farther than your grasp. Stivers is the exception that proves the rule. I know that Principal Dooley does a good job but you completely dismiss the fact that the students of Stivers have to test to get in and must maintain a high standard while there or they end up elsewhere. When examining the ‘Big Picture’ it really has little to do with the building administrator. Look at the other Dayton Public High Schools, Belmont 0 out of 12 standards met; Dunbar 0 out of 12 standards met; Medowdale 1 out of 12 standards met; Thurgood Marshall 0 out of 12 standards met. That’s 1 out of 36 standards met for all Dayton Public High School’s not named Stivers. It’s not rocket science, the best students are selected to go to Stivers and the District funnels $$$ there way for adjucts so they can have a showcase school that ‘competes with suburban districts’ on measurables. The system is set up to benefit Stivers, plain and simple. How else could a district have one high school meeting 11 of 12 standards and the other 4 combined only muster 1 of a possible 36? The District lets Stivers cherrypick the best students and lets the rest attend their choice of FAILING school. I really hope that your buddy does well, and I understand that you are an Ad guy and are saying crazy things just to get the readers attention. But I fear until a system change occurs on the level of letting parents leave the district with a voucher for a better education, we will continue to see a few hundred kids receive quality instruction and the other 15,000 will end up in a FAILING high school.
  7. David Esrati July 8, 2008 / 10:25 pm

    @alan
    Thurgood Marshall is an AMA program- and it has standards that you must meet to get in. You must also maintain a certain grade point to stay in.
    I’m not blowing smoke- and I’m not just shooting my mouth off. There will be a whole different attitude at Thurgood Marshall when the doors open, and teachers and students will know that bullshit won’t be tolerated.
    Yes, St. Ivers cherry picks. But, there is also a shared work ethic of the teachers that work there, a shared standard that they expect of the kids. It can work elsewhere, it just needs leadership and teachers that understand that they aren’t there to babysit.
    You can armchair all you want, but, I’ll bet on this dark horse in a minute, and so would you once you meet him.
    In the mean time, go rent “Lean on me” and get a good picture of what Joe Clark was like- then, go watch “Blade” – do a cross of those two characters- and you’ll have a good idea of what David Lawrence comes across as.
    I don’t think you’ll find too many kids willing to talk back to Mr. Lawrence.

  8. pizzabill July 9, 2008 / 1:19 pm
    Alan & David:

    From someone who knows, the system is certainly not set up to benefit Stivers, and the students aren’t cheery-picked by their academic performance. In my opinion, the school succeeds in spite of the system and succeeds because of the dedicated people involved– meaning the school staff, teachers, adjuncts, alumni (Stivers Foundation) and students.

    You know not of what you speak, and if a school is successful in a difficult environment it may be because people put hard work into it and take advantage of what they have– and don’t simply use what they think they don’t have as an excuse.

  9. David Esrati July 9, 2008 / 2:13 pm

    Bill-
    there is an audition for Stivers. True, it’s not academic- but, it can help weed out the cancerous personalities.
    I believe Stivers succeeds because of great leadership, great teachers and a shared vision.
    I think Thurgood Marshall will do the same.

  10. David Esrati July 9, 2008 / 4:28 pm

    One other thing: I’d much rather choose based on attitude than aptitude these days.
    Stivers will still have one up on Thurgood Marshall.

  11. Anthony July 10, 2008 / 12:20 am
    As soon as tax dollars start following the student to any institution public or private, students will start to get an education on par with the rest of the modern world.
  12. D. Woodall August 2, 2009 / 11:09 am
    Looking for old friend Dave Lawrence! D.Woodall
  13. Alan Scott September 14, 2010 / 3:19 pm
    David,

    Just checking in, we are two years into the David Lawrence reign at Marshall High School and I have just reviewed the State Report card for that building. Needless to say more work is left to be done. I didn’t mean to be hateful towards your friend, Principal Lawrence. Instead I was trying to express that until the SYSTEM is overhauled it will be hard for any one administrator (especially at the building level) to make a difference. I would say this though; watch out for David White at Belmont. They are on pace to be second to only St. Ivers in the very near future.

  14. David Esrati September 14, 2010 / 4:18 pm

    @Alan- Didn’t say Mr. Lawrence has fixed everything yet- but the school is evolving into a STEM school- and also is still able to field a great football and basketball team.

    Mr. White has done a great job at Belmont too- and look out for Ponitz as well.

    There are still teachers to change- and processes to put in place. DPS is making improvements- contrary to what the DDN will report.

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