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Saint David Lawrence

The headline is in jest. There are few subjects that I’ve written about that have generated so many comments full of vitriol and hate.

Saint David Lawrence, Chief of Innovation, Dayton Public Schools

David Lawrence, Chief of Innovation, Dayton Public Schools

Polarized audiences are nothing new to me. But some of the comments made on the most recent posts about my friend David Lawrence who also happens to be the “Chief of Innovation” for the Dayton Public Schools- who was passed over as a finalist by a divided Board of Education- have him as the singular reason for the failings of the Dayton Public Schools.

It wasn’t as if I haven’t heard it before. A fragile teacher, who has tea party leanings, told me a few years ago that he blamed Lawrence for causing his mental breakdown when Lawrence was the chief academic officer and principal of the Dayton Regional STEM school. [1] If someone can cause you to have a mental breakdown, trust me, you’ve got other issues or lack coping skills.

Reading the comments, you’d think Lawrence is solely responsible for the entire breakdown of Dayton Public Schools.
The vitriol is there for you to review on the following posts:

And, note, there are a few positive comments there as well. Most of it comes from just a few people, but they have plenty of “Brilliant” thumbs up. Personally, I discount all comments from people afraid to post under their real name. If you can’t face someone and say they are incompetent, a fraud, dangerous- to their face, then you are as much a part of the problem.

From math teacher at Meadowdale, to assistant principal at Stivers under superstar principal Erin Dooley, to taking over Thurgood, recruited to the STEM school and then recruited back to DPS the resume doesn’t sound like a failure. If there is one thing that’s beyond believable it’s that Erin Dooley would recommend her assistant principal for a promotion if he wasn’t competent. That’s not how she works. Before the STEM school opened, I suggested Lawrence as the principal to Dr. Hopkins over lunch- and after the first principal decided to return to academia, Hopkins told me he should have listened to me the first time- and was quite happy with his hire of Lawrence. This was back when I still thought Dr. Hopkins was making good decisions, before he drank from the Dayton Development Coalition kool-aid.

Let’s talk about the one success attributed to Lori Ward- improved graduation rates of DPS students. What you don’t know can be summed up in this letter from Sarah Darden of the Dayton Urban League:

“Mr. Lawrence was the first teacher, class advisor, and curriculum advisor to invite me to provide spring and summer OGT support while a teacher at Meadowdale High School during the 2005-06 school year.

When he became principal of Thurgood Marshall High School in 2008-09, he was the first principal to pay his own teachers to provide OGT summer support and at the same time he sent all juniors and sophomores to my OGT summer boot camp at the Urban League Center.”

Back in 2005, he realized that once seniors had failed the last OGT of the year, having to wait the summer to go back in the fall and test again, was suffering from the summer slide that causes all students to regress. Lawrence found funds to set up 4 teachers at the Urban League to do intensive test prep and administer the test in the summer. Voila- more graduates.

Upon arrival at Thurgood Marshall- the reconstituted Col White- there were serious discipline problems and low test scores. From 2009 until 2011 police calls went from over 45 to under 10 per year, the performance index rose from 64 to 82 and the graduation rate from 64 to 79 percent.

Need to see the actual scores:

No other Dayton Public School has had that kind of elevation in scores over a short period.

Throw in three students winning Gates scholarships, adding a STEM lab, the basketball team went to State finals twice, the football team was undefeated in his final year, it was 2-8 when he arrived. I remember him fretting over a decision to remove the winning basketball coach- he thought that there was a better way to build character and respect and brought in Darnell Hoskins, who took the team to an even higher level. (Ironically, Hoskins was recruited by Middletown to replace Mark Baker who had been offered the DPS Athletic Director position by Lawrence only to have the Board overrule Lawrence).

Lawrence built relationships on WPAFB to bring in AFIT scientists to work at the school. I recently received an email from the engineering instructor who isn’t leaving for Springfield as I had erroneously reported [2]:

“I invite you to stop by and visit our state-of-the-art engineering lab which is equipped with a range of prototyping capabilities: 3d modeling software–Autodesk Inventor, 3d printers, CNC routers and milling machines and a laser engraver.  Our students are currently earning Sinclair college credit for three courses (two mechanical engineering and one for architectural modeling with Autodesk Revit) and a fourth credit opportunity is in the works.  Last year our students in grades 9-11 earned 109 semester hours of college engineering credit which is transferable to any college.  We also compete every year in the Tech Prep Showcase.  A recent project was a microcontroller-based programmable Smart Cane for visually impaired people.”

None of that would be there had not Lawrence been principal.

While he was at Thurgood Marshal he also started a teachers academy.

As Chief Of School Innovation a few numbers to look at- suspensions have gone from 6,800 in 2012 to 3,500 in 2015, while scholarship money has gone from under $12 million to $22 million. He lead multiple initiatives including a principals institute, restorative justice practices, and bought into the latest trend, college credits for high school students (which I still believe to be a financial shell game- putting more money into Sinclair’s pockets and lessening the value of the HS diploma).

But according to “Angry DPS employee” who now tells us he’s leaving the district- Lawrence is a disaster- even alluding to rumors that Lawrence “couldn’t pass his Praxis test” [9] – something you have to pass to get a teaching license, or a principals license in the State of Ohio. Lawrence has both, plus a superintendents license. There is also insinuation of Lawrence filing some kind of “wrongful termination suit” against DPS- yet, he was never fired.
One wild claim is that Lawrence had 30 teachers at Thurgood put in for transfer- he laughs because he wished he had 30 teachers there.

The David Lawrence I know has always been someone who wants to discuss how to transform schools through innovation. He’s a workaholic. He’s driven to excellence, and has been since long before I met him. Need proof- go look on the wall in Welcome Stadium of the records for the facility- his name is still up there for his 1984 track accomplishments. Funny thing is, I know another name up there- Dick Mann, from Cleveland Heights High School is on the wall for a lifetime achievement award- he was my gym teacher back in 1979, we used to snicker about his name.

Lawrence also served in the US Army. I think that’s what got our original discussions going at the Y downtown. Mid-college, he joined the Army reserve, going to Ft. Benning GA to become an 11 Charlie (an infantry man who fires a mortar). He did 10 years in the reserves. Just one other thing that sets him apart from the other candidates- something our school board wouldn’t give any extra credit for- but, I would. The military changes most people- and in a good way. Considering it’s one option for many of our graduates, having someone who can say, “been there, done that” is a good thing.

And that leads me to the main reason I think David Lawrence was the right candidate- besides his institutional knowledge, his achievements to date, his ties to our community, his knowledge of the players, and the incredibly short 2 year window for the magic to happen.

I’ve actually met with most past superintendents, been hired to do work for DPS on a few occasions, sat through numerous meetings with high level employees, and been in the schools. I’ve served on the “Technology Review Committee” for the last 3 or 4 years. I’ve had to listen to candidates for school board “campaign” for years, and I’ve knocked on doors, talked to kids, parents, teachers.

We haven’t had a real leader in the Superintendents office for a long time. Dr. Stanic was the closest we came to a professional, and even he was a stopgap measure. He had the board so wrapped around his fingers that he was able to grant a no-bid consulting contract to his buddy who got him the job [10]– without any performance measurements in place- and they rolled over for him.

If you are counting on a school board to make the right decision in this case, one has to wonder how we got to where we are today? The fact that they once again passed over an internal candidate who was an obvious transition, [11] just goes to show how out of touch they are- and if they feel strong enough to pass him over, my advice to anyone looking for an outstanding superintendent candidate, you should know that Lawrence is the real deal.

It comes back to “A” people hire “A” people, “B” people hire “C” people, and our board of education has been failing for a long time.

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[…] hand- and introduced himself. I didn’t want to introduce myself to him because of my bias to Mr. Lawrence being IMHO the best candidate to solve our problems, but as I heard my name slipping out of my […]

Angry DPS Employee

Mr. Esrati, Thank you for finally following through on your promise to attempt to justify your stance that David Lawrence would have been the best candidate for superintendent for DPS.  I do think it’s interesting that you went to such lengths to attempt to discredit me, which you were unable to successfully accomplish. As to the things you described to David Lawrence, there isn’t anything new there that would change the minds of anyone involved in the district.  I mentioned specifically that one of Mr. Lawrence’s real, genuine strengths is his public persona.  He looks and talks the part of a concerned, involved district employee.  He is able to ‘glad handle’, as you put it, with the best of them.  I did learn that Mr. Lawrence was previously in the US military, something that I do agree is a very important quality.  The brave men and women that serve our country deserve credit for their decisions to serve and willingness to do so.  I genuinely compliment Mr. Lawrence on his service to our country.  I also acknowledge your statements about David Lawrence being familiar and comfortable with the Dayton community.  Those are all legitimate facts and should be an important part of any potential superintendent’s resume.  The increases in the Performance Index scores and other positive progress that was made under Mr. Lawrence’s tenure as principal of Thurgood Marshall are also impressive.  I will not take those things away from him.  However, I still believe that those things alone do not automatically qualify Mr. Lawrence to be chosen for superintendent. As to the areas where we disagree, I noticed a glaring gap in the facts and figures that you’ve provided.  There is no legitimate, measurable progress that can be cited from Mr. Lawrence’s time as Chief of School Innovation.  Let me take the one paragraph covering the last 5 years apart piece by piece: 1) “As Chief Of School Innovation a few numbers to look at- suspensions have gone from 6,800 in 2012 to 3,500 in 2015,” I understand the rationale here.  If a student is causing a repeated disruption to… Read more »

Angry DPS Employee

Mr. Esrati, I apologize for being too wordy, I didn’t realize word count was now a measure of the value of the arguments presented.  I’ll make a note of that for future posts. I’m not sure you’ve actually been reading my responses, otherwise you already have answers to the questions you’ve posed.  Let me quote myself (read them this time): On the topic of Lori Ward, as I said in my comment directly above your most recent response: “DPS is far more concerned with lessening negative press, with appearing to make positive strides, than they are with fixing the systemic problems with the district.  Dr. Ward was, as I mentioned in my comments on your other entry, the best and this poor practice.  She was a phenomenal cheerleader for our students, but was more interested in putting buzzword band-aides on problems then fixing their root causes.  Mr. Lawrence has been a part of that central office administration, ultimately second in influence to only Dr. Ward, and has not created real change.” On the topic of Lori Ward, in the “DPS superintendent search takes a wrong turn” comments: “Here’s the reality: The problems with DPS start with and are almost solely the responsibility of the organization downtown.  Lori Ward was and is an excellent cheerleader for our students, but her methods fall more under the guise of hiding the negatives rather than creating more positives.” Again, same comment section as the previous: “As I mentioned previously, Lori Ward is just as guilty as anyone else downtown, more so considering her position all these years. Both she and Mr. Lawrence share the same ability to ignore the negative while promoting the positive, even whilst we’re literally drowning in said negatives.” I think I’ve been pretty clear on my feelings regarding Dr. Ward, however, I feel I should spell it out again so there is no confusion moving forward:  Dr. Ward was very good at praising our students and for their accomplishments and keeping a positive spin on the goings on within the district.  She was also, and unfortunately, very good at promoting the… Read more »

Angry DPS Employee

Mr. Esrati,

Thank you for correcting me on Lori Ward vs. Dr. Ward. I’m not sure where I got the idea that she had a doctorate, but I appreciate you pointing that out.

I understand what you’re saying about getting rid of the deadwood associated with Lori Ward. A large number of the people downtown in positions of authority are incompetent. They aren’t doing their jobs effectively or at all, and I agree they need to go.  However, the difference between you and me (Nailed it this time, I hope you’re reading, Mr. Lauri!) is that I believe David Lawrence is one of those who needs to go add you don’t.

I think it’s a bit laughable that you’re so hard to dismiss my ideas as crazy than actually refute them. I don’t think David Lawrence is the devil, I just think he’s the wrong person for the superintendent job. It never would have even been brought up were it not for your continued promotion of your friend and your unwillingness to acknowledge that he might not be all you’ve built him up to be.  You’ve even resorted to using the fact that he attends sporting events as a quality that makes him worthy to be superintendent. Next you’ll tell me he’s more qualified than the others because he’s faster in a foot race than they are… Oh wait, you already did that… The fact that your arguments hinge on things of that nature proves their inherent weakness.

All I want is what’s best for the thousands of DPS students. Instead we’ve had a generation of self-centered leadership and buzzword band-aides as opposed to real change. David Lawrence, despite his attendance at sporting events, has been a part of the failing downtown apparatus for 5 years with no legitimate evidence of successfully moving the district in the right direction. He’s not the devil, he’s just a guy that was rightfully passed over for the superintendent job here in DPS.

Angry DPS Employee

Alas, it appears the autocorrect on my phone has made some creative edits for me. Let me correct them quickly…

The last sentence of the second paragraph should read: “I believe that David Lawrence is one of those who needs to go AND you don’t.”

The first sentence of the third paragraph should read: “I think it’s a bit laughable that YOU TRY so hard to dismiss my ideas as crazy than actually refute them.”

My apologies!

Angry DPS Employee

Mr. Esrati,

A concession? Really? I’ll admit, that was unexpected. As I mentioned before, it’s unfortunate that you’d rather shut me up than refute my opinions…I really thought we were getting somewhere.

Just remember, the kids at DPS deserve the best possible educational experience we can give then. They deserve someone with a record of success who can, in turn, put them in the best possible position to succeed in life. The entire Dayton region will be positively impacted when DPS is able to fully equip its graduates with the education and skills necessary to make it after high school. College, military, labor force, it doesn’t matter where they go, as long as they walk out of our doors with their feet firmly planted on the path to success. That’s what the superintendent of Dayton Public Schools should be able to put in place, and anyone who would impede that needs to go. Teacher, administrator, SRO, janitor, bus driver, anyone who isn’t there every day for these kids needs to go.

I know you believe Mr. Lawrence is best suited to fill that role, and you know all my concerns and vehement arguments against that idea, but I’ll tell you one thing with utter sincerity:  If I’m wrong, if David Lawrence eventually becomes superintendent of DPS and is able to bring about those changes… I’ll happily take back every doubting word, because it’s the kids who truly matter in all this.

Needless to say, it’s been fun sparring with you. I’ll keep an eye out if to see if you’re ever able to refute my arguments… Good luck.

Angry DPS Employee

Mr. Esrati,

Perhaps I read your last post incorrectly? Just had to get a parting shot in there, did you?

The facts that you provided dealt with the time Mr. Lawrence served as principal of Thurgood, facts that I already started were positives in his favor. The information you gave for Mr. Lawrence’s time as Chief of School Innovation was misleading to say the least. Taking facts in a vacuum without considering their implications on the rest of the system isn’t an accurate measure.

Yes, suspensions went down, but overall building discipline was severely degraded. Yes we had “Restorative Justice” and College Credit Plus, but they were flawed, ineffective programs from the start and haven’t produced any positive impact in students. Yes total scholarships increased, but that had absolutely nothing to do with Mr. Lawrence. Those are not opinions, those are facts. The only facts you have given me (that I have not refuted) for Mr. Lawrence’s time as Chief of School Innovation are that he attends sporting events and that he has a positive public persona. That’s it.  Mr. Lawrence does not have any record of success during his time downtown that would justify him being superintendent. That is a fact.

With the exception of a few outstanding administrators throughout the district (Erin Dooley, for example), the only real, genuine progress that takes place in DPS comes from dedicated teachers giving their all for their students on a daily basis inside their own classrooms. They are the stars of this district and they are the ones who deserve the credit. Downtown (Mr. Lawrence included) does nothing but get in the way of that.

K.Thompson

Not sure why you think that Lawrence is a saint. Clearly you do not have facts. You can or anybody can do a public records request from DPS and the Stem School.  The truth, no rumors, Lawrence was told to resign or be fired from the Stem school, ask the Board, ask Jeff Mims, or the teachers of the Stem School.  Another fact, Lawrence was part of a restructure of Thurgood due to three years of academic failure per ODE, public record request emails from DPS during that time period. The mere fact that he got dayton stem was because of Jeff Mims, the same for the creative position of Chief innovation, Ward owed Mims therefore was repaid with Lawrence. Lawrence left dps disgruntled, he sent a long, abrasive email before he had to leave dps. Once again, do a public record request for all emails of Lawrence when he was principal at DPS. So please state facts not bias. True journalism is suppose to be nonbias and with stating facts.

Emerie Whitman-Allen

Mr. Esrati,

I question what you actually know about the culture of the STEM School. Did you personally work there, or do you get your opinion via your friend, Mr. Lawrence, who left on such unsavory terms from his position there? As a member of the former, I’d like to defend the school’s culture as one that has merely high expectations for behavior and a genuine love for intellectual rigor (for students and staff alike). During his tenure at the school, Mr. Lawrence was regularly absent, disrespectful to students, and unprofessional to the staff. On more than one occasion he was called out for misrepresenting conversations amongst staff to the governing board and vice versa. If you’d like to believe the staff was privileged for refusing to tolerate such ridiculous behavior in a Principal/CAO, then I suppose your mind is already made.

On another note, your commitment to degrading the legitimate criticisms of the “Angry DPS Employee” above is really too bad. It’s truly unfortunate that a supposed journalist, or at least public voice within the community, is so quick to dismiss a differing point of view, especially by those who have perhaps more professional interaction with the man than you personally claim. Consider that those who oppose Mr. Lawrence so vehemently (or, at minimum, those who opposed promoting him in this case) may actually have the best interest of local schoolchildren at heart. At this point, after such an absurdly one-sided defense, your support of Mr. Lawrence can only be read as uninformed. I hope that in the future you might open your eyes and ears to the opinions of others, especially those who’ve had the actual firsthand experience to which you refer.

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[…] performance boosts in schools she managed- when I tried to look up Ohio rankings- as I had done for David Lawrence who demonstrated sizeable gains when taking over Thurgood Marshall, in Cleveland I could only find one valid state performance report card for Thomas Jefferson […]