New Dayton superintendent looking forward to challenges

Board president says David Lawrence, a Paul Laurence Dunbar High School graduate, will “move the needle.”

Credit: Jim Noelker

Credit: Jim Noelker

David Lawrence has taught classes and served in just about every administrative role in the Dayton Public Schools.

Now, after an unanimous vote by the Dayton school board Tuesday night, Lawrence will lead the district —which faces a number of stiff challenges — as superintendent.

Dayton Public has struggled with academics and state performance testing for decades and, mostly recently, chronic absenteeism following the pandemic.

Statewide, test results showed that large urban districts like Dayton Public, Columbus and Cincinnati had students lose the most learning during the pandemic and saw the biggest increases in chronic absenteeism, which is defined as students who miss at least 10% of total school hours for any reason.

Lawrence and others believe he’s up to the task to improve the district.

“There is very little in education I haven’t done,” said Lawrence, who was chosen over two outside candidates for the job.

Board resident Will Smith said he thought Lawrence was the best candidate because he has shown grit and determination as well as the ability to build a strong team during his interim phase.

“I saw somebody that is moving the needle and I see somebody that can continue to move the needle in urban education,” Smith said.

Lawrence is already well-known in the community, having graduated from Paul Laurence Dunbar in 1984, been a teacher and principal in the district, worked in curriculum at DPS and at the Dayton STEM School and been a principal in Northmont schools.

He was also the business manager for the district last year and has been interim superintendent since last July, when the previous superintendent, Elizabeth Lolli, abruptly left the district to become interim superintendent of Lakota.

Since returning to the district, he has hired back many people he worked with previously and had since left the district, including associate superintendent Lisa Minor and chief academic officer Akisha Shehee.

The district, which is the largest in the region, is a high-poverty district with low performance scores, test scores and graduation rates. The school system has lost many of its students to charter and private schools.

Lawrence said while he was attending Dunbar, there were more than 60,000 students. Dayton Public has roughly 12,000 students now, and about the same number of students live in Dayton but attend private or charter schools.

He said the district “deserves a win,” and he’s been working to improve the culture of the district and will continue this in his new role.

On the 2022-2023 report card, the district received an overall two-star rating. Only three school buildings received at least a three-star rating last year – Horace Mann Elementary, Cleveland Elementary and Stivers School for the Arts – while five of the 26 buildings received 1.5 stars and one building, The International School, which is for students who have recently immigrated and speak little to no English, received one star.

Achievement, early literacy and graduation were three of the topics the state said the district needed to work on the most.

Lawrence said the district plans to “aggressively” work on improving middle schools. It’s somewhat common for a student to attend a Dayton Public elementary school and then leave the district in middle or high school to attend a different school.

He said the district plans to improve after-school offerings for all students, trying to move beyond athletics and adding clubs for more students.

“We don’t want to use apathy as a reason to say that we can’t be great and that we can’t fix this,” Lawrence said. “And like I said before, we deserve a win.”

Lawrence said as a high school student at Dunbar, he never thought he would be the superintendent of the district.

But as he became an educator and rose through the ranks, becoming the superintendent became something he was interested in. He last applied to be the superintendent was in 2016, when the district hired Rhonda Corr, who was placed on leave in 2017 and officially left in 2018. Lawrence did not advance to the final round in that phase.

That’s why he made a change when he was named interim superintendent in July.

“I never really operated as the interim,” Lawrence said. “You put a plan together, and you execute it and if you don’t get the job, then you hand that plan off to the next person so they have something to work with.”

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