Dayton’s school board approved multiple administrative personnel changes, hiring a principal who was fired last year in Louisville, approving the departures of special education leaders and several assistant principals, and rehiring ex-athletic director Mark Baker as truancy coordinator in the wake of athletic scandals.
The district’s communications director also announced she would leave after just months on the job and after the superintendent had recommended against renewing that contract.
The actions came late Tuesday night as part of a 5 1/2-hour meeting, approved unanimously and without discussion by board members.
Angela Worley, a leader of the DPS Engaged Parents group, said the district’s frequent staff turnover is “extremely counterproductive” at a time when the district talks about building relationships and parent engagement.
“We are concerned that there is not nearly enough continuity within our school buildings as each year administrative teams and certain support staff are uprooted,” Worley said. “My own child has been exposed to three different principals in three years in one school building.”
The turnover is happening one year after DPS changed 12 school principals and 17 assistant principals. And it comes at the same time as major teacher turnover, as four low-performing schools’ teaching staffs are being “reconstituted,” where teachers have to reapply for jobs. Lolli cited problems with hiring, as 141 positions are currently unfilled, as well as with poor attendance among some employees already in the district.
“Maintaining consistent leadership, allowing that leadership the time, support and opportunity to develop and cultivate relationships would certainly be Step 1,” Worley said.
Hiring a fired principal
The school board approved the hiring of Margaret “Meg” Thomas as principal of Rivers Edge Montessori school, at a salary of $94,107. Thomas was fired by Jefferson County Public Schools last summer for “conduct unbecoming a teacher, insubordination and neglect of duty,” according to a Louisville Courier-Journal story.
A toddler who was found alone on the school playground was brought into the school, at which point the child was identified as a non-student from the apartment complex next door, according to the story. Thomas allowed an unrelated parent who lived in the complex to leave with the child, without reporting the incident or calling any authorities. The story said the child was delivered home.
Lolli said DPS looked thoroughly at Thomas’ background and said she had a “stellar record” in Cincinnati Public Schools.
“The situation you read about, that’s rather a strange situation, and there was no due process followed by that school district,” Lolli said. “It appears from our review that basically the change in that administration no longer supported Montessori. … We’re very confident that she’s the right person for the job.”
Mark Baker stays
When Baker was athletic director, Dunbar tried to lose a 2016 football game on purpose, the Ohio High School Athletic Association singled out Baker for his role and placed the entire district on probation. The school board then gave Baker a two-year contract extension in spring 2017.
Last spring, the OHSAA kicked Dunbar out of the 2018 basketball postseason for ignoring suspension rules after an in-game brawl. After that incident, Baker was reassigned from his athletic director post to the associate director of truancy role for the 2018-19 school year, but kept his $84,000 salary.
2018 STORY: Baker out as DPS athletic director
Lolli said Baker kept that salary and an associate director title this year because “it would have been illegal” to change the salary while his contract was active.
Baker will be paid $63,496 in the truancy role next year, and Lolli said he will do the same work he’s been doing this year.
Spokeswoman leaving quickly
Lolli had recommended nonrenewing the contract of communications director Tracey Hanlin, who was just hired in December for $85,000 to lead a new three-person communications team.
But after a closed executive session meeting in which Hanlin spoke to Lolli and the board, that vote was tabled Tuesday. Hanlin agreed to resign at the end of the school year, but neither Lolli nor Hanlin would comment on the reason for the move.
When Hanlin was hired in December, school board President William Harris said that the district needed to communicate better with the public. The previous communications team had been Marsha Bonhart, who retired after just over a year, and director of strategic communications Venita Kelley, who was ousted and is now suing DPS for wrongful termination.
Several others out
The board approved the departures of two associate directors for special education — Karen Robinson-Jeter, who is retiring, and Promise Spaeth, who is resigning.
Lolli said that’s on the heels of a three special education staffers leaving the district and another dying last year. She said Angela Nichols, chief of DPS’ Office for Exceptional Children is filling some positions but actually cutting others, as Lolli said that department has had “surplus staff” beyond what caseloads and state law would suggest.
2018 STORY: At least 11 DPS schools getting new principals
Also, five assistant principals are leaving their roles, two by resignation (Ponitz’s Miranda Heibert and Meadowdale’s Lynda Huggins) and three going back down to continuing teaching contracts (Meadowdale’s Tasha Millerton, Eastmont’s Brennan Brewer and EJ Brown’s Tiffany Ray-Bozeman).
Huggins addressed the school board Tuesday, but was cut off by Harris when she said she was only resigning because her contract was being non-renewed. That’s similar to Hanlin’s situation and that of director of community outreach Ida Nalls, whose resignation was approved after her contract had first been presented for non-renewal. Huggins later said she wanted her students to know that she wasn’t choosing to leave because of them.
While all this turnover is going on, DPS has also been restructuring the human resources department, based on a consultant’s review. Executive Director of Human Resources Judy Spurlock is leaving that role this summer and returning to a school principal role at Eastmont elementary. Associate Executive Director LaToya Harper is resigning this summer.
“We are almost complete with the HR changeover,” Lolli said. “There’s still a couple of positions in the list that the board of education approved a long time ago, when we had the consultant in working with us. We’re almost ready for that department to be fully staffed and operational in a new way.”