Big Dayton schools changes: More than half of district leaders changed roles for 2018-19

More than half of Dayton Public Schools’ top administrators will be doing different jobs than they were nine months ago when a crucial new school year begins Aug. 13.

The Ohio Department of Education spotlighted continuity problems when DPS was at risk of state takeover. But district leaders felt that an organization that has faced multiple academic, discipline and oversight problems would be hard-pressed to just keep things the same.

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Superintendent Elizabeth Lolli said DPS leadership has lost some experience but has gained insight from new hires and promotions. She said the mix is a positive to keep DPS from becoming stagnant and ingrained in its own culture.

“These people who have come in, both internally and externally, have infused a new energy into the school district,” Lolli said. “I think there’s a lot of attitude that we can do this, and we can do this together. That’s what you want. If these changes had created an ‘Oh my gosh, what are we going to do’ mentality, I’d be worried. But they haven’t.”

Many personnel changes

It was only four months ago that Lolli, after a brief interim stint, was named superintendent. But the changes beneath her have rendered the most recent organizational chart from October almost meaningless.

Counting school principals, chiefs, directors and others, 30 of 54 DPS top leaders were newly hired or had a change of assignment since November. The majority, especially the principals, were existing DPS staff who were promoted or reassigned to new jobs.

But some have also been hired from outside. Carolyn Mack was hired as chief of curriculum in March, Lynsa Davie was hired as chief of special projects in late May and Angela Nichols took over special education efforts in June.

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The turnover has been so fast that when Davie began advocating for a school turnaround program in a school board meeting last week, board President William Harris interrupted her to tell everyone what her name was.

The district has appointed new directors of safety, health, transportation, federal programs, staff training and athletics in recent months, most of them from internal promotions or adjustments. At the principal level, about a dozen of the district’s 27 schools will have new principals this fall.

“I believe that in order to be successful, you have to have the right people in the right seats,” Lolli said. “The people we brought in from outside are high-quality people, highly recommended, and so far, from what I’ve seen of the work they’ve done the whole month of June when they weren’t really employed yet, they have been committed to what needs to be done.”

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Lolli said the same is true of several DPS employees who have been promoted, highlighting Chief of Schools Erin Dooley, Athletic Director Shawna Welch and curriculum coordinators Justen Seay and David Andrews as people who have been “committed to the work” this summer.

And the changes continue — Donetrus Hill was another staffer Lolli complimented as he moved from Meadowdale principal to chief of curriculum and instruction for math and science. But just hours after the compliment, after a new principal hire backed out, Lolli switched Hill to Belmont High principal.

One of the biggest areas of change is the Office for Exceptional Children, which handles special education, a crucial area. DPS has more special education students than 94 percent of school districts in the state.

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School board personnel documents show that in the past four months, the executive director and three associate directors resigned, and a director died. Nichols just took over that department, one associate director has been hired, and Lolli said other job offers are forthcoming.

“I’m confident where we are because Dr. Nichols is well-connected,” Lolli said, referring to Nichols’ time in Cincinnati and Lebanon schools. “I’m very confident with her skills and abilities. We have enough experience in that department that we’re going to be OK to start the school year. We’re trying not to promote our own people at this stage of the game, because then we’ll be short of teachers.”

Seeking stability

Change was to be expected this year with four new school board members and a new superintendent.

Teachers union President David Romick said he believes teacher turnover, while still significant, will be lighter than last year. That’s partially because of current labor peace compared to last summer’s near strike and also because new contract agreements made pay more competitive with other districts.

Romick said the administrative moves are “a lot of change” but added that much of it is needed change, particularly improvements in curriculum. He said the new principals need to be instructional leaders in each school, and agreed with Lolli that “we have to get the instructional piece down.” The district added several curriculum coordinators to cover specific content areas and grade levels.

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“From that standpoint, these changes are needed. But from Aug. 13 forward is where the stability has to come into play,” Romick said. “We need to see stability moving forward so that people can grow into these positions, including teachers in their classrooms. Then we can implement the needed changes and move the district in the direction it needs to go.”

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