Residents share worries about impact of Dayton school closings

Almost 100 parents, school staff and concerned residents gathered at Meadowdale Elementary on Thursday night to provide feedback to Dayton Public Schools officials who are weighing whether to close any schools.

School board member Mohamed Al-Hamdani first said he wanted to dispel the myth that the district plans to close nine schools. That rumor has been repeated in several gatherings around the city, after DPS identified nine schools (of 28) that were less than 50 percent full.

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School officials at various times recently have said they might close “about three” or “a couple” of schools for next fall. A district task force is studying the issue, and Acting Superintendent Elizabeth Lolli plans to make a recommendation in the coming weeks. A final school board decision is possible as early as the March 20 board meeting.

At Thursday’s community meeting, participants broke into small groups to talk about top priorities for their schools, what an ideal school would look like, what they feared most about the process, and how the district could help them transition.

Top issues included worries that DPS would lose high-quality teachers in this transition, calls for improved school safety, and worries about how closing schools would affect busing, attendance, school identity and parent involvement.

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DPS parent Yolanda Phillips applauded the focus on quality academics, but worried about how fast the school district is moving with this process.

“We were trying to get across to them that we’re not getting enough information,” Phillips said. “It seems like we’re just getting into the real information on what’s going on inside the classrooms (but) I think they’re kind of skimming over this.”

There was little discussion Thursday about reasons to close or preserve certain individual schools – which ones have strong principals or low staff turnover, high academic performance or valuable community partnerships, and which ones have sparse student populations in their surrounding neighborhoods.

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Lolli said all of the public feedback from Thursday’s session – as well as next Wednesday’s 6 p.m. community meeting at E.J. Brown school – will be weighed along with input from the school task force.

Several groups Thursday expressed worries that class sizes would balloon if multiple schools were consolidated. A group of teachers said DPS schools have often lacked stability and consistency, and worried that school closings would only make that worse.

“If we don’t have schools close by that kids can get to reasonably easy, then you’re going to have kids, especially older ones, who are not going to show up, and that’s a recipe for disaster,” Dayton resident Yvonne Curington said. “RTA is cutting back on their services, and parents who are trying to work two or three jobs don’t have time to transport their kids across town.”

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One group urged school officials to make any decisions within the framework of a 5-10 year plan, “so we’re not back here in a couple of years doing this again.”

But Lolli said the school board is just about to begin a strategic planning process that will take some time.

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