A Playground (R)evolution was held tonight

The Man behind the curtain, revealed from the Wizard of Oz

Who is manipulating your kids while playing video games? The man behind the curtain?

What happens when you send a Dayton kid from the West side to Antioch, and he becomes a school principal in a community that is a mash-up of Mexican immigrants, little Appalachia and throw in a smattering of black kids- a Social justice themed K-8 school that’s trying to change the world.

Once again, I’m writing about a friend, who happens to be a Dayton Public Schools principal- Devon Berry at Ruskin in the Twin Towers neighborhood off Xenia Avenue. Ruskin has been graced with a community action agency- East End Community Services, headed by Jan Lepore-Jennelson- a former City of Dayton director of community services. Together- they are working at transforming a once proud working class community back into a working community.

There are new energy efficient homes being built, a new playground, programs to put x-cons back to work deconstructing homes and recycling materials- and, there is a group of kids putting on an annual play- talking about the challenges facing kids today.

It’s not an easy play to watch- but, the subject is one that we’ve been ignoring in this country for way too long: our desensitization to violence. It started with TV- how many murders, rapes, shootings, beatings do we see in prime time every night? People get shot- and still manage to keep going- the season finale of Justified has Marshall Givens taking a bullet- then going to sit and have a drink with his nemesis… yep, with a bullet in him.

The kids talked about Grand Theft Auto- a popular video game where you steal cars, buy guns, sell drugs and shoot people for money. Listening to a 13 year old explain how he picks up a hooker, takes her to a dark alley for sexual favors- pays her, then shoots her to get his money back after the “happy ending” is disconcerting to say the least.

Juxtapose that story with fairy tales, cross it with reality, and throw in references to the man behind the curtain and you start to see that these kids realize that someone is playing them when they suck the time out of their lives playing these games. Toss in the part about getting health packs, reloading the game and getting your life back- vs. what actually happened last year outside Westwood Elementary school where a young girl was shot and killed on the playground- and you start to understand why if we don’t create recreation programs- and give kids ways to interact and actually play with each other- we’re breeding our own future reality torn from the screens of these violent games.

We’ve killed off our parks and rec departments, sold our community art center, given up on our community theater, and barely cut the grass at our playgrounds- yet we still find money to put kids in jail costing us hundreds of dollars a day. We teach kids to be afraid of “sex offenders” – and live in a state of perpetual fear in the city. Still believing that these things don’t happen in the suburbs.

The most powerful parts of the play included an amazing solo by a young lady who sang like Etta James- and when the girls talked about how many times grown men had accosted them or solicited them right in their neighborhood. The audience reactions after the show included words like “powerful” and “it gave me a lot to think about” (I was interviewing people with a video camera).

Unfortunately- this amazing success by a Dayton Public School- wasn’t covered by the news media- and as of right now, there are no plans to produce it again, which is a shame. But, after watching these kids- it makes me want to take our PS3 and toss it out- and, to remember to spend more time with my girls doing things that don’t involve a screen and joystick.

The play was called “Playground (R)evolution” and I’m sorry you missed it.

Please think twice about letting your kids rot their brains playing these games for the man behind the curtain.



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.

The return to neighborhood schools

When I first ran for Mayor, at the same time Mike Turner ran for Mayor- I talked about the return to neighborhood schools. Turner mocked me- saying it was an issue for the School Board. I talked about the effect it had on our community- exchanging racial segregation for economic segregation. I was told it couldn’t be undone- we were under “court order.”

Years later, Turner, as Mayor- talked about how he’d solved the problem. Even took credit for it. Sorry, the damage is already long done, and the suburbs grew- and then the x-urbs, until we have the sprawled out mess we have. We now have the same number of people, in a much greater area, with a lot higher overhead, and a lot less good paying jobs.

But, now we are going back to neighborhood schools.

The reason people believe the change is happening? Because we can’t afford the gas bill to bus them. There is some truth to it too- but, the other reason is that students do better when connected and integrated into a neighborhood. Good neighborhoods, good communities, good compact units- do better than sprawled out ones.

And guess what? The same holds true for all those jobs we commute to. We just haven’t realized it yet. Being able to walk to work is as important as being able to walk to school. Same goes for walking to the store, the restaurant, the bar, the barber, the park. But, we won’t figure all that out until gas hits $4 or $5 or $9 a gallon.

On July 1, 2010, her first day as Superintendent, Lori Ward, made a presentation to the Southeast Priority Board about the change to neighborhood schools and the new attendance zones. I thought it was important enough to go out and tape it- and make it available to the community via YouTube. I could have been out campaigning, grabbing hands, kissing babies or asking rich people for money for my campaign- but, instead, I chose to deliver a little more democracy and open discussion to the community.

Here it is- about an hour.

I applaud Ms. Ward for going out and talking with the community about this major change. I also agree with her that making Dayton Public Schools a school system of choice- is critical. We have some amazing success stories going on in DPS- other than just Stivers School of the Arts. You need to know what’s going on at Thurgood Marshall- Dayton’s own STEM high school under Principal David Lawrence, and what’s happening over at Ruskin- a true community school, in partnership with East End Community Services under Principal Devon Berry. These happen to be two of my friends- but, I can tell you that the system can educate kids- and is doing it, but the message has been getting lost.

Ms. Ward has a message worth hearing. I’m glad I can help.