Dayton schools change 20 of 25 principals in 2 years

When Dayton Public Schools welcomes back students on Aug. 12, it’s likely that only five of the district’s 25 school buildings will have the same principal they had 16 months earlier.

After 12 DPS school buildings got new principals last fall, 11 are slated to get new leaders in August, including three that will have a new principal in back-to-back years. Nine of those fall 2019 hires are pending for the June 25 school board agenda.

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“When you’ve been an “F” as long as we’ve been an “F,” you have to do something radical,” Superintendent Elizabeth Lolli said, referring to the district’s rating on the state report card. “You have to do faster change than you would if you weren’t an “F.” If an Academic Distress Commission (state takeover) comes in, there’s going to be more change than I could ever imagine.”

In the past 18 months, the school system has hired a superintendent and new leaders of curriculum and special education, overhauled human resources and teacher training, closed two schools and forced teachers to reapply for jobs at three others. The school system appointed new directors of safety, health, communication, transportation, federal programs, staff training and athletics. A few hires lasted a year or less.

The new round of principal changes for August includes hires from outside the district, such as Meg Thomas to take over River’s Edge Montessori, central office staff moving back into principal roles (HR Director Judy Spurlock taking over Eastmont), promotions (Alex Robertson going from assistant to principal at Kiser), and several existing principals moving from one school to another.

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Current Eastmont Principal Celeste Hoerner will move to Rosa Parks, Shelly Murphy goes from Rosa to Westwood, Akisha Shehee goes from Westwood to Louise Troy, and LaDawn Mims moves from the closing World of Wonder to Cleveland.

“I’m trying to get the right people in the right seats,” Lolli said, using the same phrase as last summer. “It’s not a singular decision – I have three school chiefs who evaluate principals, and they work on making sure we have the right principal in the right seat. I take recommendations from them, as well as offer my own input.”

Yolanda Clark has already been hired as principal at Roosevelt Elementary (the newly named school combining Boys Prep and World of Wonder), as Boys Prep Principal Therman Sampson will move to director of Diversity and Inclusion.

Three new high school principals are on the June 25 agenda – Gerry Griffith at Stivers, Melinda Clark at Ponitz and Monica Utley at Thurgood Marshall, as current Thurgood Principal Sharon Goins will become DPS’ associate director of STEM education.

2018 STORY: 11 Dayton schools to get new principals

School board member Sheila Taylor said Tuesday that she was “amazed” and didn’t understand the back-to-back years of principal shifting. In April, the leader of a parents group called the continued turnover “extremely counterproductive.”

“People in the community are coming to me and saying, where is the consistency here?” Taylor said. “This is not comfortable. I think the public deserves an explanation.”

Lolli said she would wait to discuss the changes in detail when the school board votes on the hires.

The changes come at a time when the district is trying to improve family engagement in the schools. Board member Jocelyn Rhynard, who is helping to lead that effort, starting with individual schools’ PTOs, said Lolli has made “very careful decisions” on personnel.

“Parents know their local teachers and principals more than they know the superintendent or (central office) chiefs,” Rhynard said. “We want to make sure that the connections we have between teachers and parents are sustained and supported. Principals oversee that. … Schools have particular identities and principals play a key role in establishing and continuing that.”

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Pending June 25 school board approval, the district will also have 14 changes among assistant principals, most of whom are switching from one assignment to another. Three current principals will be moved to assistant principal roles this fall – Cleveland’s Laura Hormann will move to River’s Edge, Louise Troy’s Dale Robinson will move to Westwood, and Ponitz’s Nelson Stone will switch to Dunbar.

Lolli said last year that turnover can be good, to keep schools from becoming stagnant. Tuesday, she said Dayton had some principals in the same spot for more than a decade, at which point, “you need a refresh.”

The only five buildings on track to have the same principal from spring 2018 to fall 2019 are E.J. Brown (Channey Goode), Kemp (Stacy Maney), Horace Mann (Sheri Moss), Fairview (Caitlin Smith) and Belle Haven (Joy Stokes).

The speed and process of change has bothered some. In comments to the school board last month, Dayton teachers union President David Romick said while some of the recent staffing changes for teachers may have been necessary, the way these large-scale moves were communicated should have been clearer.

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Lolli said overall, the changes are the right moves.

“I think if we don’t make those changes that are very glaring in our faces, then somebody else is going to if the district is taken over. That’s what I believe,” she said.

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