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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32 Comments on "The three ring circus for Dayton Public Schools Superintendent"

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Angry DPS Employee
Angry DPS Employee

Hello Mr. Esrati, it’s me again.

I will admit, after watching the video and discussing with colleagues who were in attendance at the ‘three-ring circus’ you describe, I agree with you that none of the three finalists were impressive or detailed a compelling plan for turning around the district.  It’s unfortunate that, with all the time that has passed since it became known that Dr. Ward wouldn’t be back, we seem to be in a position where we’re forced to settle rather than being excited about our potential choice.  However, I’m still frustrated, as I was before, that you seem to be portraying Mr. Lawrence as a fitting alternative to these three when he has been “innovating” this district, to the tune of $100K per year, with nothing to show for it.  How is he any more qualified than the others?

As this is post is partly a carryover from our previous discussion on your “Wrong Turn” entry (https://esrati.com/dps_superintendent_search_takes_wrong_turn), I wanted to bring up a couple things you mentioned in your most recent comment:

“I’ve been gathering some info to dispel some of the lies that are being spread here about David Lawrence.”

“I’ll document what changes Lawrence actually made- and why they made a difference.”

I mentioned then that I was intrigued to hear your response, and I still am.  I’m awaiting the evidence of Mr. Lawrence’s seemingly mythical successes and the positive differences they have made in the district.  You made it sound as if these things were self-evident, that I was misguided for not already being aware of them, yet 36 hours later…radio silence.  The silence is deafening, Mr. Esrati.

If I may point your attention to another comment you made:

“But- then again- most of the people in Dayton seem to think I’m an idiot…. so the question is why are you arguing with an idiot. Lawrence is out of the running anyway.

Perhaps it’s time for you to actually accept that reality.

truddick

Let’s parse paragraph 2:

“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.”

Well, if you better make the ring something they want–isn’t that kind of like appeasing the masses?

Note that many parents do not want education.  They want school, where the kid can be parked 180 days a year in a day-care environment where none dare criticize effort or execution.

Good leadership ought to be neither figuring out where the crowd is heading and getting in front–nor about whipping the crowd into a frenzy about going your way.  Instead, it’s about elevating others to become self-motivated, self-actuated, self-sufficient.  It’s getting other people to do the deed without needing you to coax, cajole, inspire, direct.  Good leadership is functional; it says that anyone gets to lead depending on whether their skills match the task at hand, and that the leadership of mature people means mostly leaving them alone to do their work.

Job interviews for educational administrators are, like most corportate interviews, more like choreography than romance.  There are, as you know, ways to present your credentials, ways to dress, ways to maintain nonverbal presence.  Did any of these candidates violate those canons?

Methinks David asks for too much in expecting a detailed, step by step action plan in a finite meeting with a room full of non-experts.

Angry DPS Employee
Angry DPS Employee
Mr. Esrati, Take it down a notch.  I made no claim to know anything about your life or what you do on a daily basis.  I didn’t attempt to make this personal, that’s entirely your doing.  I am also a newcomer to your blog, brought in by a referral from a fellow DPS teacher who read your June 10th post.  I’ve had one experience communicating with you which included 4 responses in 8 hours with a promise of more to come.  I also noticed that you had been active elsewhere on your blog after your final reply to me.  Is it unreasonable for me to expect a response to an active conversation more quickly than 36 hours?  I don’t believe so.  And frankly, to respond with such hostility and personal attacks says a lot more about you than it does about me. I’m clearly not the one slinging slop here. (On a completely separate note, I’m genuinely sorry to hear about the issues you’re dealing with regarding your parents.  I’ve watched my grandparents’ dementia worsen and seen the toll it takes on my mother.  That isn’t easy to deal with and I will definitely say a prayer on your parents’ behalf.) You claim that you have the best interests of Dayton and DPS at heart, and I actually believe your analysis of the district to be largely correct.  DPS has a problem recruiting new staff and maintaining the morale of current staff, DPS has a problem with communication, DPS has a problem with transportation, and DPS has a problem with parent/community support.  All true, but these problems have persisted throughout the entirety of my time in the district and have even worsened further in recent years.  None of this is new.  I’ve not taken issue with those issues you brought up.  I’ve only taken issue with one claim you’ve made: That Mr. Lawrence was qualified to fix those issues. Of those 4 major issues, I can speak to one with authority built on my own first hand experiences: staff recruitment and morale.  That is also the area that both David… Read more »
David Lauri

Small grammar nitpick for the angry DPS teacher:

“Between” as a preposition requires object pronouns. Between you and me, it disheartens me to see a teacher say, “Between you and I.” We lost the war on “it’s” as a possessive; must we also lost the fight on object pronouns?

Angry DPS Employee
Angry DPS Employee

Mr. Lauri, my apologies for the heartache I may have caused you, I did not notice that I had made that mistake.  Thank you for correcting me.

Jim Lewellyn
Jim Lewellyn

I was waiting for you to get to the bing, bang, BOOM part “privatization”  thanks to the test ride from that horrific storm Katrina Storm (great job Brownie) and its post “shock and awe” revitalization that normally renders wealth transfer.   Those privatized “not so well performing” at least in Ohio estimated by the WSJ reported that portfolios of charter school debt return 10-18% to Wall Street.  Isn’t that peachy and when all is said and done there’ll be no need for a school board.  It seems that their is a sector or two in our society that always gets hit the hardest.  Our lives are indeed valued based on a manmade illusion $$$$$.   Next thing they’ll think of will be syphoning our fresh water resource from aquifers and selling it back to us ….. Oh crap I just received word that Nestle is already doing this.  Grow more vegetables but be aware of those TPP Multinational profit lawsuits.  Sorry …. sometimes deflection can be effective in drawing attention to a much bigger issue lurking in the background.

Dave C.

It seems pretty unlikely that any of these candidates will prevent a state takeover of DPS.

It would make more sense for the board to start cutting down the admin personnel to a skeleton crew, saving as much money as possible and reducing the number of people in a position to steal.

Invite law enforcement personnel (esp. forensic accountants) in to watch over everybody and everything that’s left, including the money.

DPS might not be able to educate children, but perhaps we can slow down theft until the state takes over.

 

Bismark

David C.:  You understand exactly how things operate in Dayton. Pocket lining is an essential skill set of our leadership.

Angry DPS Employee
Angry DPS Employee

So I heard a funny (but unsurprising) rumor today…

Rumor is that Mr. Lawrence, in his infinite wisdom arrogance, decided he would offer Mark Baker the AD job without the proper authorization for doing so. That, in turn, resulted in the Board rescinding the offer to Mr. Baker AND removing Mr. Lawrence from the running for superintendent.

I fully admit I have no means to verify said rumor, but it actually would go a long way to deciphering the Board’s recent decisions, wouldn’t it?  And, I have to admit, it would be sweet justice to see Mr. Lawrence’s wisdom arrogance finally come back to bite him. I guess the old saying is true…Karma really can be a bitch. (And before you get upset, Mr. Esrati, I just want to assure you I was not speaking about you personally. You seemed a bit confused last time.)

On a more serious note, IF this rumor proves to be true, it would be another piece of evidence to add to the long list of reasons Mr. Lawrence is unfit to be superintendent of Dayton Public Schools.

Dave C.

With state takeover imminent, it does not matter who becomes the next superintendent.

 

Angry DPS Employee
Angry DPS Employee

Dave,

You’re probably right, as unfortunate as that is. It’s just such a shame to see a district that has had so many opportunities to improve, instead get run into the ground by individuals with selfish intentions. Our kids deserve better than that.

Angry DPS Employee
Angry DPS Employee
Mr. Esrati, Interesting that you waited this long to jump back into the conversation. If you’d read my previous comments, you’d know that I do not blame Mr. Lawrence for everything that’s gone wrong. It takes far more than one person create that level of incompetence and mismanagement. What I’ve been reiterating that you don’t seem to understand is that David Lawrence has been an active participant in the incompetence and mismanagement. He’s not the solution to our problems, as you continue to imply. He’s part of the problem. This situation, if the rumor is true, would be another example of why Mr. Lawrence is not fit to serve as superintendent. I don’t know Mr. Baker personally, but from what I know of his reputation, he would have been well suited for the AD position. I do also agree that hiring people who are successful DPS graduates can be a very positive thing because it sets a good example for students to look up too and it brings someone into the system who should have a vested interest in seeing DPS succeed. But that shouldn’t be the only quality that allows someone to get a job with the district, there should be many different standards that new hires in high positions should have to meet. I mean, let’s be honest, downtown is full of DPS graduates in high places, look how well that’s worked out for us. As to your asinine attempt at more slop-slinging, I will fully admit that there are some teachers, probably a few in every building, that are only there to get a paycheck and go home. But, you see, they’re not the angry ones. It’s the ones who devote their hearts and souls to the district who are angry. It’s the ones who show up early and stay late who are angry. It’s the good teachers who are the most upset about the district’s downward spiral, because they’re the ones who truly care about their students’ success. And frankly, we don’t need local politicians attempting to criticize us when they’re not there to witness the… Read more »
Angry DPS Employee
Angry DPS Employee
Mr. Esrati, I’ll respond to each part of your post, one by one: 1) You’re correct, simply by default. It’s bittersweet, but I’ve accepted a position outside the district. It’s difficult to leave, but I can no longer stand to be a part of the organization that is continually choosing to sell our students short through it’s willful ignorance and incompetence. The comfort of knowing I’m personally making a positive impact on each student who walks through my classroom door is no longer enough to cover my disgust towards the majority of the people running this district. There is simply no excuse for this entirely preventable mess, and it breaks my heart that the students suffer because of it.  Unfortunately still, I’m not alone in feeling this way. The number of teachers resigning from the district before the upcoming Board meeting in early July will probably be staggering. 2) You keep claiming that Mr. Lawrence is this sterling success story, a veritable superman waiting in the wings for his moment to rescue DPS from it’s mortal peril. Fine. Prove it. I’ve made my case repeatedly and you simply allude to gathering information to refute what I say, then get defensive when I question you about it. Where’s the evidence? In all seriousness, it’s admirable that you’re standing up for your friend, he’s probably very lucky to have a dedicated friend like you. But instead of making excuses for him, help him change for the better. Him doing things his way hasn’t resulted in anything positive to this point. If he really wants to make a difference, he’s got to fix himself first. Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem likely. 3) As to actual politicians reading your blog, I hope you’re right. You’re not wrong in your analysis of the district’s problems, you’re just misguided as to who should be chosen to solve those problems. It would be good for local leaders to really understand the issues with our schools. I hope I’ve presented the perspective of DPS teachers adequately enough for those local leaders to grasp the reality of teaching in this… Read more »
Angry DPS Employee
Angry DPS Employee

Mr. Esrati,

If the district I’m moving to demonstrates the same callous disregard for the well-being of its students, then yes, I’d still be angry. Fortunately, the district I’m moving to has a history of success and is moving in the right direction for its students. I’m confident from all the research I’ve done ahead of time that I’ll be happy with this new district.

I think it’s a bit arrogant to assume that your post caused the newly appointed superintendent to change her tune, but in all honesty, if it was your post that caused the change, then you have my sincere thanks. This is no time for half measures when it comes to helping DPS students succeed.

No, I will still choose not to post under my real name for a couple reasons. For starters, I’m still a district employee until my resignation takes effect. Secondly, I see no real reason that using my real name would benefit me and, in turn, would give a very vindictive friend of yours the ability to disrupt my transition to my new position. And finally, my comments are full of passionate pleas for change that would be echoed by most good DPS teachers. I’d rather have my ideas read for substance than nitpicked and discounted because of my name or the school where I work (or my grammar for that matter). Even though I’m leaving, I’m still praying for change because these kids deserve better than what they’re being given.

dexalin

Mr. Angry,

During your interview, did you tell your new employer your hobbies include writing 2,500+ words in a blog comment section?

Angry DPS Employee
Angry DPS Employee

Dexalin,

Interestingly enough, it didn’t come up. I was much more focused on important issues like content, classroom management, and building rapport with students and parents.

Dave C.

Here’s an idea:

Anybody hired as new superintendent gets a contract for around $75k per year for the first 4 years. In year 5 the compensation goes to $5 million, but ONLY if state takeover is forestalled, and certain modest (but quantifiable) improvements occur.

Evaluation and subsequent award or denial of the $5 million is to be determined by an independent and thoroughly objective panel (perhaps a federal judge, a forensic accounting team, and the dean of a prestigious college, all from outside Dayton.)

That is a total of $5.3 million in salary to turn around the ongoing catastrophe that DPS has become. It gets rid of the B.S. artists that spout buzzwords and edu-speak, and know full well they can deliver nothing.

It tells everybody that DPS will pay generously, but only for results.

 

Dave C.

If they can’t forestall the takeover = no bonus.

If they cannot keep the state takeover at bay for an additional 2 years = no bonus

If the state takeover occurs in 2 years as anticipated, DPS is only out $150k in salary.

I don’t see a downside here.

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[…] The three ring circus for Dayton Public Schools Superintendent […]

Angry DPS Employee
Angry DPS Employee

Good, Mark Baker definitely seems qualified for the job.  I’m glad Mr. Lawrence’s mistakes didn’t prevent Mr. Baker from eventually getting the position.

Angry DPS Employee
Angry DPS Employee

Mr. Esrati,

I’ve mentioned the reasons regarding the initial job offer to Mr. Baker being rescinded previously, information I believe to be credible that you do not.  Regardless, it’s good that Mr. Baker was given the job, it seems like he’ll do well.  You’re correct about HR, that department has been a mess for as long as I’ve been with the district.  No arguments there.

Angry DPS Employee
Angry DPS Employee

Mr. Esrati,

Quoting myself from when I originally brought it up…

“On a more serious note, IF this rumor proves to be true…”

Again, I never stated it as fact, no public hangings took place.  I merely explained that I trusted the source of the information and that it would explain the strange process the Board took in dealing with that position.  It isn’t important enough to me to go through the process of a FOIA request, and in stating that my information was essentially hearsay, I understand that may end up in me being wrong.  Doesn’t bother me.

As for your attempts at personal insults, just stop.  You’re not good at it.

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[…] Round 2 was covered on this blog. Even though they didn’t want an insider, this time Dr. Roberson who hadn’t been with the district long enough to learn the names of the principals was a finalist. Lawrence sat in the back of the room. Next to Dr. Tom Lasley of “Learn to Earn.” […]

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[…] The other superintendent candidates, look like little league punters with their “plan” to fix things. Just watch the video, and read my analysis of The Three Ring Circus. […]

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