DPS sleight of hand by doomed superintendent Ward

Changing the district’s school configurations is a distraction from the real issue at hand- leadership.

With the superintendent’s contract up for renewal, after 6 years of running the ship in circles, this “reconfiguration” as part of the solution, along with the rushed implementation of “1 to 1 computing” are just moves to distract the board from the fundamental problem- Dayton Public Schools are headed for a state takeover in 2 years, and the current superintendent is incapable of making any real improvement in test scores, retention of students or staff, or quality of education. Even the “Improved graduation rates” are still embarrassing. The third grade reading guarantee will result in half the students repeating the third grade.

Changing back to a middle school model for only some of the schools is just a magician’s sleight of hand trick to distract and give false hope that this “revelation” requires the keeping of the captain of this sinking ship.

Reshaping more than a dozen schools this fall is “a must,” according to Dayton Public Schools leaders, who say seventh- and eighth-graders have major academic and discipline problems in the current school configuration.

Joe Lacey and Adil Baguirov are the only school board members who had the sense to vote no- and abstain, from this sideshow. Other members of the board should be wondering how this became the solution of the day- and why they fell for it. Normally, program changes as drastic as this involve a careful communications strategy, a lengthy preparation plan, and building a cadre of leaders to explain the change.

However, DPS doesn’t have a communications team. This is because the current superintendent is incapable of firing grossly incompetent, or even marginally competent people from her team. The good ones leave for other districts- where they are paid more, respected and have real professional development programs. What’s left are the die-hard educators who refuse to let go of their ideals, and those who would never be hired by another district, or if they are- wouldn’t keep their jobs long.

Forty minutes later, the school board approved a resolution to reconfigure the grade makeup at 15 of the district’s 28 schools, meaning that more than 1,000 students and dozens of teachers and staff likely will make an unexpected move this summer. The plan removes grades 7 and 8 from most existing PreK-8 buildings, creates three middle schools at the existing Wright Brothers, Wogaman and E.J. Brown elementaries. It adds grades 7-8 to Meadowdale High School. No existing schools will close, and no new schools will be built.

Why change?

Superintendent Lori Ward said she knows the move will be disruptive to many, but said the district has to make changes that it thinks will help the most children succeed.“We find ourselves very, very challenged to make sure seventh- and eighth-graders are ready for high school,” Ward said. “I will tell everybody in this room, we’re not bringing it, as a district (on that front).”

Ward said seventh- and eighth-graders now have some of the highest suspension rates in the district and are roughly 30 percentage points behind state peers in most subjects.

There is no admission from Ward that the original change to K-8 schools was highly contested by the teaching staff that knew that mixing 8th graders with 3rd graders was a recipe for disaster. Top performing schools like Horace Mann, slipped- parents who knew better pulled their kids out.

Other districts have dedicated 9th grade buildings- for the very reason that this is the key failure point for teens, who are struggling with the move from K-8 grades that mostly don’t count, to the real world of High School.

Other districts that have attempted to fix poor performance- have moved to year-round schools- to fight the proven “summer slide” where kids lose about 20% of their skills each year. One of the reasons for all the new buildings was air conditioning- which would make year-round schools possible. Was this idea even discussed? No.

Wyetta Hayden, DPS chief of school improvement, said grouping all seventh- and eighth-graders into eight schools — rather than the current 17— will allow the district to cluster appropriate staff and offer better academic options. That means making algebra and career tech courses available to all of those students, with the hope of adding marching band and middle school sports.

She also said it ends the practice of having kindergartners in the same hallways as eighth-graders.

If it’s such a good idea, why is your top performing school (and the only one that’s worth 2 cents) Stivers 7-12?

And what’s this “hope of adding?” To quote master Yoda, “do or do not, there is no try.”

DPS Curriculum Director Bob Buchheim, a former middle school teacher and principal, called the switch a win for all elementary students, and “a must” for middle schoolers.

If this this is a win and a must, why are we keeping Stivers and Belmont 7-12? We won’t talk about Longfellow- because, well, no one talks about Longfellow. It’s sort of like Area 51 of the Dayton Public Schools. It’s where we keep the aliens.

Strong opposition

The school board vote on the change was not unanimous. Board President Adil Baguirov first suggested delaying the decision a week, then abstained from the vote.

Board member Joe Lacey was the lone vote against the move, arguing that the district just dropped the middle school system less than a decade ago, when the district’s overall performance index was the worst in the state. He also warned of possible fallout.

“We are in a competitive environment. We had a school called Patterson-Kennedy on Wyoming Street and we closed it because we had too many schools,” Lacey said. “Just a few years later, Emerson, a charter school, opened (blocks away) and became one of the highest-performing schools in the city.

“You can’t treat people like this and not expect… people to leave Dayton Public Schools.”

Joe Lacy understands. There are options, customer service is important. Giving the few remaining dedicated parents in the district the finger by springing this on them at the last minute is the action of desperation. Note, we’re still the holder of the worst performance index in the state- for a district that hasn’t been taken over…. yet.

Even some in favor of the plan had concerns. Teachers union President David Romick was upset that teachers had little notice and no involvement in planning. Ruskin Elementary teacher Karissa Jobman worried the plan would have to be thrown together too quickly and called for a task force to make sure it is done right.

The district posted a timeline on its website saying parent meetings would be at affected schools in the next two weeks. Burton said the district will begin to send notifications of 2016-17 school assignments to parents next week, giving them about three weeks to respond before open enrollment begins March 1.

Teachers’ deadline to file school transfer requests is Feb. 15. DPS Human Resources Director Judith Spurlock said she is beginning talks with the teachers’ union about staff needs.

“I want this to be successful. I think it could turn this district around,” said school board member Hazel Rountree. “It’s the move that we need. We can’t keep doing little baby steps and expect change.”

Source: Schools’ revamp stirs emotion

Ms. Rountree has been on the board for 2 years. Ron Lee, Reverend Walker, Sheila Taylor, have been on much longer. John McManus is the new guy- barely finding his way to his very expensive board seat (he spent around $30K to barely beat Nancy Nearny- (Full disclosure: I printed some of his materials at my business). To think that this idea of middle schools is a good idea as the ship is going under- and a lifeboat move at best- says that none of these people belong on the board.

These are issues that should have been brought up long ago, and discussed publicly, before making this move.

It’s time for new leadership. Effective leadership. Leadership that will clean house, communicate effectively with all stakeholders and get results. No more smoke and mirrors, no more parlor tricks.

Fire Lori Ward now. Reconsider the reconfiguration. Stop the distraction of 1-to-1 computing.

Hire someone from within the district who can clearly tell the board what their vision is, their assessment of current staffing and personnel, what their plan would be, and how they would engage stakeholders to join them with the execution of  the transformation of the district.

It’s time.

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