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Public greets Dayton schools turnaround goals with hope, frustration

EDITOR’S NOTE: As part of our initiative, The Path Forward, the Dayton Daily News is seeking solutions to problems that keep the region from reaching its full potential. Dayton Public Schools is the region’s largest district and responsible for preparing more than 12,000 students to become productive citizens. But its continued struggles are widely seen as hampering the region’s economic prosperity. Join the conversation on our Facebook group The Path Forward: Dayton Schools. 

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The public’s first opportunity to weigh in on Dayton Public Schools’ plan to turn around the district on Tuesday night revealed a mix of frustration and hope as the school system seeks to chart a better future.

About 75 people attended the town hall meeting at Dayton Boys Preparatory Academy. It was the first of a series of quarterly town halls. The next are scheduled for Kiser Elementary on Dec. 13, Thurgood Marshall High School on March 21, and Wright Brothers Middle School on May 16.

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At Tuesday’s session, Superintendent Elizabeth Lolli laid out goals for the district the school board discussed at a meeting Saturday. They included plans for improving customer service, reducing disciplinary disparity, establishing parent teacher organizations, increasing enrollment, hiring more diverse staff, improving attendance and shifting spending to classroom education.

These efforts are needed to improve performance of a district that ranked last in the state when report cards were released this week  and faces the threat of state takeover.

Several parents expressed a willingness to support the district, but said school leaders need to earn their trust after years of feeling like they weren’t being heard.

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“Once you gain our trust, I feel we’ll be engaged and supportive of this plan and will help do the work that needs to be done,” parent Jaimee Ryan said. “I want the administration to have the long view in mind to make policy decisions first and foremost with the students in mind, not with (the Ohio Department of Education) and what will pacify them.”

Part of the plan that resonated with some parents was increasing community partnerships. Kayelin Tiggs said there are professionals across the region who would be willing to mentor children and help them find opportunities.

“Sometimes it’s not about what you know, but who you know,” she said.

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Another theme was complaints about the transportation system not getting children to school on time.

“When (students) start the day out with stress and anxiety over something they can’t control, that just flows into the rest of their day,” Lynn Fischer said.

The event included reactions to the district’s goals from a panel that included Rochonda Nenonene, director of University of Dayton’s Urban Teaching Academy; David Romick, teacher’s union president; Will Smith, parent and community organizer; and school board member Jocelyn Rhynard.

Several of them mentioned the importance of recruiting and retaining high-quality teachers. Romick said the teacher turnover rate dropped from 20 percent annually to less than 10 percent this year.

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“Those of you who have been around the community for years have seen DPS plans come and go, right?” Romick said. “There’s a difference this time, and the difference is that for the first time in a long time there’s stability in Dayton Public Schools.”

Smith talked about involving the community in the planning process.

“I think the root of the problem is for so long the community hasn’t been listened to,” he said.

Parent Cameron Walker echoed this, saying parents and community groups have been pointing out the problems identified in the plan for years and proposing solutions but it has fallen on deaf ears.

“For at least three years, the information has been there, the community has been there, and we’re still here,” she said.

But after years of “talk, talk, talk,” parent Vickie Buck said she is impressed with Lolli’s initiatives and “I can see in her eyes there will be change.”

School Board President William Harris said after the meeting that “I think we’re going to be very attentive to the things that were said, we’re going to be proactive and we’re going to try to work out a strategic plan that moves this district forward.”

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