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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21 Responses

  1. Joe Lacey May 25, 2011 / 9:37 am
    High schools are not subject to attendance zones.
  2. John Lumpkin May 25, 2011 / 11:46 am
    Mr Lawrence did so much above what was required as a Principal. Its a shame for the district to lose him and the effects will be felt for a long time to come. Mr. Lawrence is a good man and a great principal and I wish him luck. My only advice to DPS is to start taking a look at your best people and find ways to keep them before it gets to this point. Everyone likes to talk about the financial aspect but sometimes that is not the issue. Some educators have an emotional attachment that outweighs financials, fair treatment is all that they want and not to be taken advantage of because of their emotional attachment. Its much easier to keep a good person in an urban district than to replace one so be PRO-active in keeping your best happy DPS not RE-active.
  3. David Esrati May 25, 2011 / 5:14 pm

    @Joe Lacey- thanks for the correction- I mistakenly believed that HS attendance zones would be implemented as cost savings for transportation.

    @John Lumpkin- agreed.

  4. Gary May 25, 2011 / 6:10 pm
    Since STEM is soon to be 6-12th graders, Mr. Lawrence is going to fit in perfectly … He can prepare the kids early enough on and then for high school, too!  He’s going to do fine …
    I hope the Man with the Plan got his pension plan from DPS–I’m sure he did, he deserves it!
    As I have stated in the past here, Thurgood Marshall is another nice-looking school; and Wilbur Wright is nearly completed on Burkhardt and Huffman–now it’s up to the teachers, parents, counselors and principals to do a good job educating the kids who are going to be our future leaders …
  5. Joe Lacey May 26, 2011 / 8:58 am
    Per David – “@Joe Lacey- thanks for the correction- I mistakenly believed that HS attendance zones would be implemented as cost savings for transportation.”

    There’s no transportation provided for our high school students.

  6. Gary May 27, 2011 / 12:29 pm
    Okay, I’m going to try to write something decent here, and try not to get any bozo votes this time:  Life is a paradox–especially in education … I rarely find or have had an intelligent talk with a kid … However, sometimes I do, and it seems the wiser kid has an education from a private school, or from a bigger town or township other than from a DPS.
    Most people my age, 50, whom I encounter, still have trouble spelling, etc.  My dad’s siblings from Walnut, KS cannot write worth a damn, where there was a one-room school house …
    I guess my point is, and it’s not new, is that education is a gift, and you don’t or cannot sometimes capitalize on it, or don’t care about it, then you will have to find some kind of work … But my point is, too, is that a higher education isn’t necessarily going to get you a white collar job …
    So I find an education to be simply a paradox as well, it really isn’t anything at all unless you use it … from a standpoint of how a good education is accepted today in the working world … Employers don’t seem to care anymore is you have a degree or not–it’s who you know that will land you the job–whether you can write or not–because spellcheck is going to help you, or Microsoft Office (which takes a minute to learn obviously).
    I won’t rest untill I figure out why this is, that an education has turned to pot!  It’s also a sad thing, and I ring my bell in sadness that things have turned out that way in America–it doesn’t matter anymore, no one really seems to care or want to do anything … except maybe a few good ones like Mr. Lawrence or Devon Berry.
    I hope this made some sense (are we just going to live on hope like the President says to do, or are we going to do something about our lives, or be a couch potato, a thief, a carpenter or an inventor?).
    And PS. I am trying not to whine about it either, but I’m also trying and not winning either, see.  Maybe I’m not trying enough, but Dayton sometimes sucks!
  7. Gary May 27, 2011 / 1:56 pm
    People who bozo me on my last comment are just the kind of folks I’m talking about–they don’t give a rat’s ass about anything!  And maybe not even themselves … It’s okay though, I’ve been there, too … :-) / :-(
  8. Princess Badweather May 27, 2011 / 3:35 pm
    Don’t worry about the attendance at Ruskin. The attendance went up 3.5% for this year.
  9. Gary May 27, 2011 / 6:18 pm
    Attendance zones/areas do not apply for DPS’ high schools; good to hear attendance is up at Ruskin.  How much longer does Ruskin’s principal have before he reaches his tenure and gets booted out, I’ll have to research it.
    Thanks Melissa and Princess; I was afraid I’d be mocked about my butt head comments, but I just want to learn, I really do!  Better yet, I want to learn the truth why things happen, like the Joplin, MO, tornado; and I think I have it bad … :-(
    Melissa, thanks again, I thought attendance zones meant where to send your kids to school in your area … but wasn’t sure.  Thanks Princess, I learned two things tonight from the two of you–that’s how it should be, all working together …
  10. David Esrati June 1, 2011 / 7:52 am

    @Alan Scott- while you may think you can claim victory with your predictions- somethings must have changed at TM- or do you really think they’d hire David Lawrence as opposed to any other principal in the region- never mind the country?

    That he was hired- for a school that is a high profile attempt to significantly raise standards, and pays a premium, has amazing State support- should tell you more about Mr. Lawrence than just the State test scores.

    As to the actual score improvements over the last 3 years- I’ll get that data for you.

    And- maybe, since you made such a bid deal of Ruskin (which is run by another friend of mine, Devon Berry) maybe we should look at those numbers as well.

  11. David Esrati June 1, 2011 / 3:00 pm

    @Alan Scott- I’m loking at a printout of Sophomores passing OGT 2011 vs 2008 for Thurgood Marshall– with the Special ed kids left out.

    Writing: 50.4>77.3

    Reading 50>75.8

    Math 37.9>58.6

    Soical Studeis 39.5>64.4

    Science 31.5>43

    Performance index- 64.9 > 85

    While still not where it needs to be- there is a substantial improvement.

  12. Alan Scott June 1, 2011 / 5:42 pm
    David, go back and actually READ my analysis. I said that I would agree that Mr. Lawrence must be a top-notch person but the SYSTEM would prevent him from reaching the goals that you bet the house on (meeting 11 of 12 indicators in three years).

    Ruskin IS working because the community has oversight and union bosses can’t bully the principal into keeping incompetent teachers around for 30 years. That’s why I bet the farm on the folks from East End, a band wagon you have since joined.

  13. truddick June 3, 2011 / 8:24 am
    Alan: from the inside, I can tell you a few things.

    1.  It generally takes a public school teacher about six years and some graduate study to earn tenure.  If, in those six years, the teacher is incompetent but still gets tenure, who do you blame–the union, or the administrators who don’t know how to identify incompetence, the administrators who find it easier to retain a bad teacher?  And if the teacher becomes disheartened after years of working with inadequate supplies (and often spending personal funds to make up the shortage),  after years of having legislators and self-appointed pundits like you trashing the profession, after years of having to fight (through, yes, the union) for decent salaries, working conditions, job security–then who’s really to blame?  Those Ruskin teachers, like the rest of DPS faculty, ARE union members, don’t you know.

    2.  I’d argue that Ruskin is working in large part not only because the principal and teachers are dedicated, but because they have the added resources provided by East End.  Again and again, the argument “you can’t fix education by throwing dollars at it” is shown to be wrong; better funded schools more often are the excellent ones.  Why, do you think the top private academies in the nation would stay at the top if they cut their tuition down from the current $35,000 or so they all charge?  Do you think the Harlem Children’s Zone would be the darling of the “education reform” set if they had to make do on a typical public-school budget and not the $18,000 per child they spend on academics (and an unknown but probably similar amount on non-academic social support programs like family counseling and [gasp!] public health care)?  Why do you think that, of the few charter schools that  out-perform their public equivalents, the majority have tapped extra funding sources?

    3.  Like it or not, no one yet has identified a fair and consistent way to identify “bad” teachers.  Oh, there are the egregious cases where the teacher ignores curriculum, accesses porn from the classroom computer, has sex with a student–and between 1 and 2 percent of teachers across the nation are in fact fired for cause each year (which, incidentally, matches parent surveys where only 1% or so rate their children’s teachers as “poor”). The bigger problem is that we have too few experienced teachers.  It takes about five or six years for a new teacher to “learn the ropes”, but the majority of new teachers leave the profession within six years (because they want higher wages, because they’re sick of administrative incompetence, or because they’re tired of people like you harping on how they’re all pampered union-suckled incompetents).  Strickland’s proposal to lengthen teacher training via mentorship in the early career might have helped with this problem, but of course Kasich is throwing out everything Strickland implemented in public education.

    Alan, if you want better teachers, consider this:
    1.  Tort reform.  Educators, especially administrators, live in fear of lawsuits.  We protect corporations who negligently make dangerous products!  But we don’t protect educators from frivolous legal action.  (Did you know that one reason teachers like the NEA is that membership includes a generous legal defense provision?)
    2.  Better teacher training.  More course work in academic subjects and less in educational research and theory; let the new teacher have an extended apprenticeship/mentoring program where theories and practices get communicated.
    3.  A little more respect for the profession from the likes of you.

  14. Gary June 3, 2011 / 8:58 am
    An ongoing problem, all of this … Why not start over: DeUnionize the DPS system, and only hire teachers with Educational Doctorates, including all the staff except maybe for the secretaries, etc.  Shoot, bet there are many doctors out there needing work …
  15. truddick June 3, 2011 / 5:31 pm
    Gary, a PhD does not necessarily a good teacher make.  Fortunately, the worst ones are clustered in graduate-program faculties.  (I say fortunately b/c the foundation for education is poured in the early grades, so all things equal we need the very best teachers there).

    And educational doctorates?  Really likely to be even worse in the classroom.  I’ve audited a grad-level education course; a lot there about education law and management, nothing much about teaching.

    Anyway, DPS has posted a list of reduction-in-force actions.  Forget about firing bad teachers; they’ll be laying off (again!) some very, very good ones.  We continue to get the education system we pay for (the one we think we can pay less and less for).  Note that the unions did not create the deep tax cuts that generated this funding shortfall.

  16. joe_mamma June 4, 2011 / 8:47 am
    “We continue to get the education system we pay for (the one we think we can pay less and less for). Note that the unions did not create the deep tax cuts that generated this funding shortfall”. – truddick

    More like we get what we deserve.  The problem has less to do with dollars and more to do with structure and culture.   What’s worse is that a civil debate can’t be had.  Any move by parents and citizens to change the status quo is immediately characterized by unions, educrats and politicians as an attack on teachers and children or worse illegitimate because we are not “part” of the education system .  Any advocacy move by teachers at a local level immediately is generalized as being part of the worst excesses advocated by their national union.

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