Dayton Public Schools untold stories: Thurgood Marshall HS

I think what bothers me most about the no-bid contract that Dayton Public Schools awarded to an out-of-town “PR Firm” is the stories that aren’t being told. It’s not just the PR firm that’s failed- it’s the leadership of the system that has allowed the public to hear all the bad things and practically none of the good.

Believe it or not- there are good things happening in Dayton Public Schools. Not that it’s been that way all the time, but starting with Superintendent Kurt Stanic with his buck-stops-here demeanor, DPS stopped being a citywide babysitting service and started focusing on discipline and learning in every building.

New principals were installed across the district, and although scores remained lower than we’d like- they’ve started to slowly move up. Considering the number of special needs students, the poverty rate and the mobility rate (many DPS students change schools every few years) the transformation has been pretty dramatic to those who know more than what they read in the Dayton Daily News, or just rely on the State Report Card.

I’ve written about Principal David Lawrence a few times on this site, today, I gave up on the idea of getting him to come in to my office to tape- and went to visit him at 12:30 in the afternoon (it’s Sunday) at TM- he’d been there since 6:30 am. In the video you’ll notice a future TM student- but, please ignore her fidgeting, she’s 7.

We talk about what’s changed at Thurgood Marshall, what they are proud of, the makeup of the student body, test scores and what makes a difference in the student success.

I’ve been out to TM several times during the school day- and have also spoken to students there. I’ve been to their football and basketball games- I’ve seen the transformation taking place. There is a story unfolding there- and this short video does little to tell it, but at least it’s a start.

David Lawrence isn’t the only principal working with a team of talented educators in the district, there are many others. David White at Belmont is transforming what was a zoo, into a disciplined school, Devon Berry at Ruskin is implementing a community based school based on the work of Geoffry Canada and the Harlem Children’s zone, Erin Dooley has turned Stivers into a nationally recognized school of performing arts- and that’s just a start.

Unfortunately, it’s easy for the haters to ignore these transformations because the district does a horrible job of tooting its own horn and the Dayton Daily News is the best grave digger on the planet.

Hopefully, I’ll be able to share some more of these stories over the next few months.

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9 Responses

  1. truddick September 19, 2010 / 8:42 pm
    Nicely done, Esrati.  You impress me with your handle on DPS.
    One quibble: the district started turning around under Percy Mack, whose feats included getting Dayton into Continuous Improvement on the state report card.  (I know, I think the state report card is far from an honest measure–but nonetheless an accomplishment).

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  2. GladGirl September 19, 2010 / 10:20 pm
    David White is my hero. He is the only reason we have returned to DPS. My student is a 10th. grader. He took time to meet with us last spring to answer very direct questions from both of us. We knew after 5 minutes we would be registering for Belmont and returning to DPS after a life time of private school, paying to go out of district for 3 years (Mad River) and years of homeschooling. The mayor heard my cry of frustration (as a fellow home schooling parent) and told me about David White. He was right on. I call him Buford Pusser with a bull horn. ZERO b.s. from this guy. He told my daughter, “Everything you heard about this place was true. It was Lord of the Flies in here but those days are over.” She loves it there. The ESL (English as a Second Language) students that enter the district are assigned to Belmont. The diversity and cultural experience sharing in that school is priceless.
    While I’m here, I want to praise Superintendent Lori Ward too. There are many issues to iron out on the customer service level in the registration office, which I won’t go into because I want to keep this post postitive. I do know this, she is on it. She heard the complaints I had and worked with me, sometimes returning my phone calls as late as 8:00 at night, still working in from her office.  Engagement and action are the best PR tools anyone can have. If these folks are supported and allowed to continue the good works they have started then I fully believe DPS can be pulled out of the ditch.
    (and mad props to the security staff and teachers at Belmont too!)

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  3. Teri Lussier September 20, 2010 / 10:34 am
    Great interview, David, and thank you and Mr. Lawrence so much for taking the time to share this information. Changing a school has to be one of the toughest jobs ever. It says volumes about the character of this principal that he has been able to cut through piles of red tape and entrenched bureaucracy to make not only a difference, but a positive difference.
     
    When I saw the DDN article about the reports cards, my thought was, “This isn’t news.” What was news to me were the changes to districts like Northridge. That’s where the story is, as is this.  Keep fighting the good fight.
     
    (and, btw, really cute kid!  ;)

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  4. David September 20, 2010 / 2:07 pm
    Great interview, David, and I appreciate the informational integrity of your format.  Unedited, unscripted, no sounds bites — just raw data, with your commentary packed in around it.
    One thing Mr. Lawrence said in response to your question, about two minutes and 45 seconds into it, really threw me. You asked him about parental involvement, and he responded that he disagreed with you about parental involvement being important.  While it’s true that high school students spend a great deal of time out of the house with their friends and extracurricular activities, I strongly oppose the idea that a high school will ever serve as my kids “surrogate parents”.  Sorry — the typical high school doesn’t espouse the kind of values I want reinforced, and I’ll keep asserting my right as a parent — with my children, and their schools — to stay involved and help my kids navigate the minefields of moral choices they face during their teenage years.
    Maybe his position is a commentary on the sad state of parenting he’s observed, which would be unfortunate. Nevertheless, I’m very wary of a school principal who has expanded his job description to overlap with mine as father and parent.

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  5. Cory Aldrich September 20, 2010 / 6:41 pm
    This past spring I was one of the UD teaching interns that Mr. Lawrence referred to. I was, and remain, impressed with the effort and accomplishments occurring at Thurgood Marshall (and elsewhere in the district). The challenges that stand in the way of providing every student with the education necessary to see them succeed as adults are great, almost overwhelming when you consider that many originate outside the walls of the school. What I did not see in my time at Thurgood Marshall was an administration content to let those challenges become excuses to success. Rather, Mr. Lawrence and his team were committed to overcoming whatever obstacles impede student success regardless of their source. The challenge is great, but I have no doubt that he will succeed if given the opportunity.

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  6. GladGirl September 21, 2010 / 12:27 am
    WOW….ironic. All eyes on Smith Elementary in Oakwood today.

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  7. David Esrati September 21, 2010 / 9:29 am

    @GladGirl- include the link in the future- or something more informative.

    The reason people will look at Smith- is a man walked into Smith during lunch- went through a teacher’s purse and stole credit cards- then went shopping. Here is the DDN link: http://www.daytondailynews.com/news/crime/man-walked-into-oakwood-elementary-and-stole-teachers-wallet-police-say-932194.html

    Yet- this will have more repercussions for Dayton- furthering the stereotypes- since he was:

    1. a black male
    2. and he went to shop with the cards on W. Third Street.

    Furthering the exact stereotype of why Dayton is “unsafe”

    One asshole ruins it for us all. Of course, Oakwood Police have pictures in high def from the school (which the new DPS schools would also have)- but, they won’t stop until they catch him and prosecute. Dayton Police would do the same- but, then the prosecutor would let them plea out.

    No matter what- we lose.

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