Dayton Public Schools losing a superstar

On July 6, 2008. I introduced you to David Lawrence– the new principal of Thurgood Marshall High School in Dayton. I called him “the man with the plan.”

He was taking over at the former Colonel White High School, in a brand new building with a plan to make TM into an academic academy of choice. Apparently, he did a good enough job to be recruited and has now accepted the position of Chief Academic Officer and Principal at the Dayton Regional STEM School.

Apparently, contrary to popular belief, good things are happening in Dayton Public Schools- but, it’s an uphill battle.

Lawrence had numbers improving every year, however he was still faced with challenges of having incoming freshmen who aren’t prepared for high school. It’s a problem every HS principal is keenly aware of- and now, recruiting is becoming the norm. The switch to attendance zones may hurt [correction- DPS high schools will not go to attendance zones- so the schools will all be recruiting and trying to fill their seats with smarter kids] the schools that can’t filter the way Stivers and Ponitz do.

Yet, despite being a DPS graduate and 15-year veteran, Mr. Lawrence’s time as principal was going to be up, one way or another.

DPS is facing budget cuts- and has a hard time meeting the salary offers for their star principals from state-sponsored charters like the DRSS, which offers better pay and benefits along with help from Wright State. Wealthier districts can easily cherry pick our best and brightest,  overcoming the economic challenges that hinder urban districts.

Also, because of the “Great Schools” money from the federal government that Dayton couldn’t turn down, his tenure was about to be cut short before he’d finished his mission:

With funds allocated under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, the U.S. Department of Education dramatically increased the funds provided to SEAs under section 1003(g) while issuing program requirements that charged the SEAs with channeling the funds to LEAs for the “persistently lowest-achieving schools” to support rapid improvement through four relatively prescriptive intervention models:

• The “turnaround model” in which the LEA replaces the principal and rehires no more than 50% of the staff, gives the principal greater autonomy, and implements other prescribed and recommended strategies.

• The “restart model” in which the LEA converts or closes and reopens a school under a charter school operator, charter management organization, or education management organization.

• The “school closure model” in which the LEA closes the school and enrolls the students in other schools in the LEA that are higher achieving.

• The “transformation model” in which the LEA replaces the principal (except in specified situations), implements a rigorous staff evaluation and development system, institutes comprehensive instructional reform, increases learning time and applies community-oriented school strategies, and provides greater operational flexibility and support for the school.

via School Improvement Grant – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Just imagine if our government legislators had the same standards applied to them- increase employment and wages in your district, or be replaced?

Of the above 4 options- DPS can only realistically do one: remove the principal. Going charter would be fought by the union- and closing or changing 50% of the staff are impossible.

The reality of these stupid regulations is that they now prevent many people from aspiring to become principal- making it even harder to find the kind of people we need to fill these challenging jobs.

This is going to be a continuing problem for Dayton Public Schools as long as we don’t have the option to reject poor and developmentally delayed students. I can place a bet that the STEM school doesn’t have 23% of the student body requiring special needs as did TM. In fact if you take the special ed students out of the TM performance measurements- they wouldn’t be forced to change principals.

Charters are also free of union rules that protect seniority- a real problem for a public school principal forced to meet academic achievement goals. Good principals know who is able to teach and who isn’t- but, union contracts make it difficult to eliminate teachers with seniority.

We’re a long way from having tools to measure teacher performance, but we’re also severely handicapped by what the teachers have to work with. Every single Dayton Public School has at least 80% of the students eligible for free lunches- which should be an indicator of the impact of poverty on the district. No one will argue that poverty is the biggest challenge to education today.

We need better solutions to get better schools- but, in the meantime- one of our better solutions is leaving DPS.

Best of luck Mr. Lawrence.

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