The Superintendent Search Soiree

Full disclosure, I’ve known David Lawrence for about 25 years and considered him a close friend until recently. I’m not sure if the pressure of being thrust into a position by a psycho, disrespectful school board has contaminated our relationship, or if I’ve misjudged him all these years. Political survival in Dayton is often determined by what ring you’re kissing in public.

This Tuesday, the stupidity of the “National Search” for a new superintendent should come to an end, with the only defensible conclusion: Dr. David Lawrence is the best, last and only choice to lead the dysfunctional school district out of the desert after 40 years of wandering aimlessly and without direction.

The 40 years is a bit of an exaggeration, because that would put us back in 1984 when Lawrence was graduating from Dunbar, and the district hadn’t fully imploded, although by that point, the district was a shadow of it’s former self.

The demise of the district can be squarely placed on the voters of this community, who for the most part, have elected some of the stupidist people to oversee our schools. I could name names, but, it would take too long, and serve no purpose. There were a few exceptions, but, even they were unsuccessful in building a positive school environment and culture of learning, because the problems of the Dayton Public Schools are so much bigger than the schools, they are of a community that has been fed moldy Spam® for so long while being told it’s a filet mignon. But that’s what a “culture of corruption” does over the last half-century, it rewires us to believe we can’t do better than mediocrity.

Unfortunately, our current school board is mediocre and dysfunctional. If there were consultants to re-train bad behavior and counter-productivity in office, this board would be a top prospect. It’s become clear that it only takes one person to knock the whole crew off course, and that that title gets passed around like bad booze amongst a few teenagers. If I had time, I’d make a highlight reel of the worst ego-maniac, psychotic, mental-midget on the board Chrisondra Goodwine- except, no one could sit through and watch more than 3 minutes of the garbage that comes out of her mouth incessantly and the video would last hours or possibly days. However, a Goodwine shitshow video might prompt someone in the State House to pass a new law which gives voters a way to remove this cancer from the board (currently, Ohio makes it almost impossible to remove a school board member- even if they break laws, like Goodwine did with “hoodiegate“).

The fact that the board has 2 new members who are now wondering what alternate reality they just entered is a start, but the reality is, this board, and it’s chosen leader, Will Smith, need to take care of Chrisondra’s outbursts and verbal diarrhea sooner than later, or we’ll never be able to focus on the true goal: improving the performance of the Dayton Public Schools and fixing the internal self-defeating culture of a district that’s been torn apart by an evil leader who was celebrated by the buffoons on the board.

There is no other way to look at the reign of terror of Dr. Libby Lolli other than a plot to force the Dayton Public Schools into failure so the assets could be sold off to charters at pennies on the dollar. Five of the people on this school board, Goodwine, Lacy, Smith, Rhynard, Wick, not only kept extending contracts with Lolli despite her failing performance and mass exodus of staff, but giving her raises. The fact that in just 5 short months, Lawrence has turned around all performance indicators, managed to get the buses to run on time, and tried to start running professional meetings despite the unprofessional board, as an “Interim Superintendent” who is getting paid less than the principal of Oakwood High School (who was just temporarily relieved of his duties) should tell you something about the quality of his character and his desire to fix the district where he lives.

Yes, I’ve been advocating Lawrence as superintendent for the last decade, and still thoroughly believe that he is the only one qualified and stupid enough to take this operation on. Although in the last five months I’ve also seen the side of him that others dislike and that I’ve been in denial over- and, I guess it’s because we’re kind of two of a kind- people either love us or hate us, but very few have no opinion. It’s that line between arrogance and confidence that rubs people the wrong way, and for Lawrence, the biggest test will be when the interim is dropped- will he relax a bit, and realize which battles are worth fighting- and which are not?

The fact that he put up with the indignity of the “national search” conducted for a totally unnecessary $65K is one mark of either his humility or his dedication to the district and his chance to shine, and the fact that he continued to work for a measly $160K a year, while thrust into a position where you usually pay extra for emergency help. It’s the same reason plumbers can charge 2-4x more an hour when it’s a weekend or a holiday and your only toilet isn’t working. In this case, the shit was backed up in a thousand toilets, and the board really had no other options.

Which brings me back to my Army training. The true mark of a leader is if he’s prepared his troops for battle and his replacement is standing ready. That’s not been the case in Dayton before. Much like the political parties in this country who can’t seem to find a bench of people to call on to replace the octogenarian candidates they are going to foist upon us as the only choices for president, DPS hasn’t had a clear number two ready to step up.

If I was Dr. Sheila Burton, I’d be handing in my resignation on Tuesday as they anoint Lawrence the permanent leader. That she’s never been in the running for the top spot shows she’s just been dead weight carried by this district for decades too long. My experience “working” with her back in 2012, left me wondering if you can get a PhD out of a box of Cracker Jack and use it to pad your resume. We were trying to redesign enrollment forms and she didn’t understand how PDF forms could be used to enter data directly into a database if designed correctly, despite multiple attempts to explain it (and that was just one part of the project).

When you look at “The Team” Lawrence had brought together in short order and realize there are a whole bunch of people who could step in as he steps out, you are finally seeing the makings of a real district. The need for a “National Search” by any organization should be seen immediately for what it is- a lack of competent leadership in place.

If it wasn’t for Lawrence being from here, and committed to fixing the district he’s watched waste away, this “National Search” was nothing but a national marketing campaign for his skills to districts across the country and an introduction up close and personal to the Alma Advisory Group headhunters who now will have him at the top of their list for recruiting to other districts which are much bigger and pay more. Figure that in 3-5 years, they will come back and try to sell him all across the country. Had the board done it’s job without their “help” we wouldn’t be facing this threat.

The last big question that’s been unanswered is what will this board decide to pay for his services, and how smart are they? If you look at the world of pro American sports for contract negotiation tips, you’d think about a base pay that’s at least equal to Lolli’s and then have performance bonuses that are tied to what was considered unreachable goals. Is it worth paying Dr. Lawrence $220K a year base? Absolutely, unless you want to be viewed as racists paying an incompetent White woman more than a competent Black man. Is it worth paying Lawrence and his team a $1M bonus if they attain 50% passing of the third grade reading tests and attendance jumping by 10%? Absolutely, with the condition that the players on his team commit to a 2-year extension on their contracts. If these things come true, they will be the hottest prospects on the market, if they only get to 45% passing and an 5% increase in attendance, we’ve still seen the first measurable improvements in these battered schools. Other things that should be part of the bonus performance bonus package, employee retention, employee satisfaction, graduation rates, discipline disruptions declining, etc. etc.

While kudo’s should go to the Alma Group for even finding other candidates willing to come to interview in this shitshow of a district, with it’s dysfunctional board and a in-house candidate already the interim, one would wonder if they didn’t take about $20K of their fee and split it between the other two finalists.

I tried to watch as much of the interviews with the other candidates as possible and all I can say is that every time they opened their mouths, they made a stronger case for Lawrence to be hired as he should have been.

The idea of bringing in an outsider to fix your problems is only one done by organizations where all hope is lost, or if someone has ulterior motives. I was particularly happy that one of the groups involved in the selection were the actual students of the district, because they are truly the customers, more so than the staff. It is their future that will be decided by the actions of the new superintendent. Knowing Dr. Lawrence, and having seen him in action in school buildings for decades, I fully understand his biggest strength is relating to children in a way that’s inspirational and intellectually challenging. He really does understand the base function of education or “school” as he likes to call it- is to get kids to want to learn for the sake of learning- not just to pass the test.

And that’s why, the test of our board is to see if they’ve learned what kind of gem came out of this district and is now ready to be put on display as an example of what can happen when you do things right.

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