Dayton Public Schools names superintendent

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

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Rhonda Corr was hired as superintendent of Dayton Public Schools

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Rhonda Corr will be the new superintendent of Dayton Public Schools, aiming to use her experience with Cleveland, Chicago and Indianapolis public schools to turn around a district that faces possible state takeover in two years.

Dayton’s school board voted 5-1 to approve Corr’s hiring at a special meeting Thursday, and they voted 6-0 to hire Hiwot Abraha as the new treasurer, filling the other vacancy at the top of the district. Abraha has been DPS’ assistant treasurer since December 2011.

Both contracts are for only one year – Corr for $140,000 and Abraha for $120,000 – with the board reserving the right to negotiate an extension next summer.

“I do not have all the answers, nor can I do this important work alone,” Corr said. “But we do, as a community, have the answers. We do have the ability to turn this ship around. And I will lead in such a way that brings people together to join forces on behalf of our deserving children.”

Corr was chosen over finalists Gregory Roberson, who just finished his first year overseeing DPS’ special education efforts, and Dan Schroer, who is superintendent of the small Margaretta school district near Sandusky.

Ron Lee was the lone no vote on Corr’s hiring. He said after the meeting that he “had another choice,” but would not say which finalist or other candidate he supported. Board member Hazel Rountree was not at the meeting.

Corr spent 25 years in Cleveland schools — 11 as a Spanish and special education teacher, then 14 as an assistant principal and principal. In summer 2013, she became a “chief of schools” in the Chicago district, overseeing a network of 36 schools with roughly twice as many students as Dayton Public Schools.

She was laid off from that position after the district CEO, who hired her, was convicted of wire fraud. Corr spent the past school year as an academic improvement officer for Indianapolis schools. She was also a finalist for the superintendent’s post in Salt Lake City this spring.

“Rhonda was the only candidate who had proven experience in turning around urban districts in three different places, all three of which were larger than DPS,” school board President Adil Baguirov said. “She’s done this already in Chicago where she’s not a native. She has this knack for quickly learning things.”

In Corr’s application for the DPS job, she emphasized the importance of listening, team-building and collaboration. She said she is “not a micro manager,” and urges team members “to leave your ego and title at the door.”

She wrote in that application that she would start with a 90-day plan. In her comments to the school board Thursday, she revised that slightly.

“Because of the urgency of having to turn around our schools in a quick manner, we simply do not have the luxury of taking that much time,” Corr said. “So my days will be longer, my work weeks will be extended in order to listen and learn from our central office staff, principals, teachers and so many other important staff members.”

Corr’s contract starts July 1, but she said she’s already working and will attend a meet and greet with some district staff Friday morning.

On the academic side, Corr repeated the priorities she mentioned at last week’s community forum — third-grade literacy, achieving at least a year of growth for all students, closing achievement gaps through individualized interventions, and improving the district’s graduation rate. She said it’s crucial to all of those goals that the district give high-quality training and support to teachers and principals.

“I definitely want to change the culture so it’s a positive environment,” Corr said. “And while I hope that everybody stays on board and joins the team, I have high expectations for everyone, so in the event that there are people who don’t believe, or aren’t all about kids, this may not be the right fit for them.”

Corr has two adult children and a 2-year-old grandchild, and she said she was proud that her daughter graduated from public schools in the Cleveland district. Corr holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Cleveland State and said she is finishing her doctorate in educational leadership at the University of Akron, with a dissertation on racial equity.

Corr will replace Lori Ward, who was superintendent for the past six years, overseeing a term where graduation rates rose, but state test scores flattened and then dropped to the worst in Ohio in 2014-15. The school board negotiated with Ward this spring as her contract approached expiration, but did not reach agreement on a new deal. Corr said she met with Ward this week.

Abraha will replace her boss, Craig Jones, who was DPS treasurer the past three years. The school board chose not to negotiate on a new deal with Jones, and both sides cited some friction in the relationship.

Abraha was the district’s interim treasurer for eight months in 2012-13 just before Jones was hired. She was a senior accountant in the district from 2008-11 and spent 14 years before that with the Auditor of State’s office. She holds an accounting degree from Central State University. She was not present at the board’s meeting Thursday.

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