The three ring circus for Dayton Public Schools Superintendent

A full house at Rivers Edge PK-8 for DPS superintendents presentationsCitizen participation is something we love to do in Dayton. Groupthink is rarely the way you solve difficult problems. A quote from Ross Perot has stuck with me for a long time, “Whenever anything is being accomplished, I have learned, it is being done by a monomaniac with a mission.”

Leadership isn’t about appeasing the masses, it’s about invigorating them, selling them a rally cry, focusing their efforts on what needs to happen first, second and third in order to reach the ring. And, you better make the ring something they want.

So when the Dayton Board of Education trotted out their three candidates for our next superintendent, you’d expect a real sales pitch- not about them, where they were born, not about what they’ve done, but about what their vision is for the Dayton Public Schools and how they are going to do it.

What we got was three, mediocre, uninspiring presentations- that frankly could have been about any school system USA. There was no rigor, there was no delving into the real issues we’re facing. The candidates went in alphabetical order, a resume was handed out, a 6 question survey- which didn’t have a space for notes, and a comment card. They were color coded for each candidate- and collected and tallied before the Board went into Executive session to discuss who knows what.

This wasn’t a room full of professionals evaluating real plans, this was more like a high school class president election, with a lot more at stake and slightly more time allotted to each speaker.

Rhonda Corr began with how she was adopted. What that has to do with running our district I’ll never know. Does Dayton have a higher percentage of students who are adopted than other urban school districts? She talked about growing up in Cleveland, her work there, including her bi-lingual skills. When she talked about her successes- instead of having clear graphs, showing actual test data- she had the horrible Microsoft powerpoint clip art. The deck looked like PowerPoint 101 – first assignment. She glossed over her experience in Chicago- again- no real, hard facts, and described her termination there as being one of those things where bad things happen to good people- guilt by association, declaring her innocence. Was I inspired? Hardly. She was locked down behind the podium, almost like a lecturer.

Dr. Greg Roberson had a much better looking deck. It had to look good, because what he was selling was Dr. Seuss concepts to a NASA convention of astrophysicists. In the room, were most of the DPS principals- who had come out to support the candidate that didn’t make the cut- who was observing from the back wall. These are the instructional leaders of Dayton Public Schools. These are the people who manage the buildings where education takes place. As the only internal candidate, he should have been selling these folks his plan- grown out of his 10 months on the job at a cabinet level position. Instead of wowing them insight into the specific problems facing DPS, he comes up with his big idea, supported by his ridiculous data analysis- “if you look at our failing test scores- and just remove the kids who miss more than 10 days of school a year, you go from failing to passing.” He comes up with his little mnemonic for everyone to chant together- and there you go. We just need to have more truancy officers, interventions and a feedback loop to make sure kids come to school and we win! Yeah.

Really?

I had the gall to ask him to name the principals and their schools- or acknowledge them individually for coming out tonight- and got booed. Apparently asking someone to know 28 of the leaders of your organization of which you preside over is too much of a test. I’m sorry- if you want to lead our schools, and you already work there, I think it’s fair to ask that you know who reports to you. Also, I used to see former Ruskin Principal, Devon Berry on my street often, looking in to get one of the Crouch boys to school. Just showing up on the doorstep isn’t enough. Maybe, if we had schools that offered stuff that kids thought was worthwhile- like extra-curricular activities, or arts, or computer programming- they might be more interested, oh, yeah, and they weren’t hungry, or dealing with other more basic problems.

I’m pro-military, and generally think there is a lot that a veteran brings to the table. However, of all the candidates, on paper, Roberson is the least experienced by far. Bringing that up apparently isn’t fair either.

While I was at the mic- the battery on my camera’s hard drive died- and I didn’t pick it up until part way into Dan Schroer’s presentation. Maybe the battery was protesting my treatment. Maybe, there should be some other video of all this, done by someone from DPS.

Dan Schroer was very different than the other two. Before we even got started, he was glad handing like a politician. I tried to make it past him to go to the bathroom before the whole thing got started and he almost blocked me in the hall, demanding to shake my hand and know who I was. When I said my name, he responded that he has read my blog. I tried to dismiss him with I was in favor of the candidate who didn’t advance, and he came back with that if selected, he looks forward to meeting with me. If that doesn’t rule him out, I don’t know what would.

His presentation was also generic. No specifics. But, I gotta say the guy is likable, friendly, took the time to shake every questioners hand, asked their name. He’s the kind of salesman the district, hell, the city, the region needs. Give him good material to go out and sell a turnaround- and he’s your guy. He could charm the business community into engaging the district, he could help sell a levy, he’s Mr. Personality. He has practically no urban experience and when asked what he’d do about fights at athletic events, it was more police- even after I said the community was looking for alternatives to criminalizing behavior.

The candidates all came back with a 2 minute wrap up. What was really needed was a discussion with the board about the real issues we were worried about. The principals know what the problems are and so did some of the people in the audience. None of these candidate had a plan.

Here’s what a competent plan would have addressed at a minimum:

We have a “Catch 22” with Human Resources in DPS. We are short about 100 qualified teachers going into next year, our pay is low, our moral is horrible and because of the distinction of being the worst in the State- it’s incredibly difficult to recruit teachers. We’re also losing teachers at a ridiculous rate. Its a huge cost penalty we face in turnover, and it’s a major distraction when almost every day we’re short staffed by 20%. Forget kids in school, if the teachers aren’t there, we’re going straight into the States hands.

The communications part of DPS sucks. We’re going to be into July, before we have the new Superintendent on board. Corr said she’d spend the first 90 days listening. Damn, she won’t even start working on the problem until schools been in session for a month. None of the three presented the way they were going to transform perception, improve moral, right past wrongs, figure out how to sell the turnaround. Corr did mention PR in her presentation. Roberson had a bad type logo of DPS Proud in his. Only Schroer had the skills to sell a plan in my estimation, but, he didn’t have one to sell.

Transportation has been a constant nightmare at DPS. If you can’t get the kids to school, home visits and truancy officers don’t even become an issue. This is a constant complaint of almost all parents. There are solutions to this. Not one of the three even knows it’s a problem.

Connecting schools to the community is also a problem. With our desegregated/resegregated, magnetized/demagnetized, neighborhood/zone schools there is not a real working infrastructure to building relationships with parents and the community. Throw in the impending hail mary of converting three schools into middle schools into the middle of this mess and you’ve just added more complexity to an already dysfunctional school system. When I asked Corr her feelings on restructuring- she said it’s already the boards decision, but when pressed, she said she prefers PK-8 as an organizational model.

I didn’t see much to address any of these issues in these presentations. What I saw was a three ring circus without lions, ringmasters, elephants, clowns, or any of the regular parts of a real show. As mentioned in comments on another post- I did see Clayton Luckie parading around- and heard him say he was going to make a comeback, just like Marion Barry I thought.  He said he’d beat me if I ran against him- and that David Lawrence will never be DPS Superintendent, apparently in retaliation for the district allowing Jonas Smith (Clayton’s uncle) to retire as Athletic Director.

City Commissioners Jeff Mims and Joey Williams were in the audience. Mayor “City of Learners” Whaley wasn’t. Her pal Tom Lasley, Dr. Education himself, was there- in support of Lawrence.

We now wait for the Board of Election to make up their minds on which one of these candidates will lead the district into the State takeover and eventual switch to an all charter system- like what they did in post-Katrina New Orleans, where Ms. Ward will be ready to roll with her charter management company (some have observed that Ms. Ward is probably more of a charter person than a public school person).

Others are talking about running a slate of candidates to replace some people on the board. The last time a slate was advanced it was the infamous “Kids First” group of 4 woman, who were backed by Reynolds and Reynolds with a $200K campaign. They helped pass a levy that made the construction companies a lot of money building new schools- and they bought the Taj Mahal downtown from Reynolds for a ridiculous price making their election one of the best political investment of all time.

My bet is the Board will want to hire Corr, and either choke on her price, which will probably be in the $200K or more price range of Ward- or they’ll end up with Schroer, who will come for considerably less and doesn’t scare any of them. Corr could also end up going somewhere else if they don’t lock her in quick. With just two weeks before the outgoing superintendent departs, they are cutting things awful close.

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