New Dayton school board members want to listen, be voice for others

New Dayton school board members (from left) Will Smith, Gabriela Pickett and Dion Sampson were sworn in Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2020. JEREMY P. KELLEY / STAFF
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New Dayton school board members (from left) Will Smith, Gabriela Pickett and Dion Sampson were sworn in Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2020. JEREMY P. KELLEY / STAFF

The three newly elected members of Dayton’s school board were sworn in Tuesday night, and the board chose returning member Mohamed Al-Hamdani as board president for the year.

Will Smith, Gabriela Pickett and Dion Sampson took their oaths of office, replacing the outgoing Robert Walker, Sheila Taylor and John McManus, who did not run for re-election.

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“I’m just here to listen first and foremost,” said Smith, who was the top vote-getter in November’s board election. “I want to continue the work I’ve been doing as far as making sure our residents are heard from and listened to.”

Pickett said she’s looking forward to conversations with students, parents and teachers. Sampson said he’s excited for the opportunity to serve and “be a voice at the table” for parents, families and students.

Al-Hamdani takes over as president for William Harris, who led the board the past two years. Both men, along with Karen Wick-Gagnet and Jocelyn Rhynard, were first elected to the board simultaneously two years ago and have two years remaining on their terms. Harris was the one to nominate Al-Hamdani for the role.

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In 2019, McManus and Taylor had complained of division on the board and feeling excluded by the majority. Al-Hamdani said he is excited about the “great new members” joining the board and expressed optimism about their ability to work together.

“I think we have to keep our focus on academic improvement,” Al-Hamdani said, pointing to improvement on the most recent state report card. “I think one of our biggest goals is restoring the trust people have in DPS and creating a sense of community that people feel comfortable with.”

Jocelyn Rhynard will remain the board’s vice president for a second year after being nominated by Smith. Rhynard thanked Harris for his dedication and hard work, serving as president of the board for his first two years as a member of the group.

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Major issues facing the board are how to increase stagnant student attendance, deciding an approach on repair/maintenance of school buildings and improving mental health services, among other topics.

The new board’s first regular business meeting is at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at DPS headquarters, 115 S. Ludlow St.