School restucturing stirs emotions


The Dayton Daily News was the only media outlet to cover Tuesday’s three-hour DPS school board meeting and break the news of Dayton’s school restructuring.

Reshaping more than a dozen schools this fall is “a must” according to Dayton Public Schools leaders, who say seventh- and eighth-graders have major academic and discipline problems in the current school configuration.

But those school officials are facing plenty of anger from parents and teachers who will be forced to switch schools, particularly a vocal contingent from Wright Brothers Elementary on Huffman Avenue. That school is one of three that will change from an elementary school to a middle school serving only seventh- and eighth-graders, meaning a dramatic change in staff and students.

“My question to the board is, ‘Why Wright Brothers?’ This school is an example of what is working,” longtime teacher Nicole Plennert said at Tuesday night’s school board meeting. “We’ve worked so hard to get these kids where they’re at. … For us, I feel like it’s a slap in the face.”

Forty minutes later, the school board approved a resolution to reconfigure the grade makeup at 15 of the district's 28 schools, meaning that more than 1,000 students and dozens of teachers and staff likely will make an unexpected move this summer.

The plan removes grades 7 and 8 from most existing PreK-8 buildings, creates three middle schools at the existing Wright Brothers, Wogaman and E.J. Brown elementaries. It adds grades 7-8 to Meadowdale High School.

The change creates a district of PreK-6 elementary schools, except for the Charity Earley girls’ school and Dayton Boys Prep, which will stay in a PreK-8 format. No existing schools will close, and no new schools will be built.

Why change?

Superintendent Lori Ward said she knows the move will be disruptive to many, but said the district has to make changes that it thinks will help the most children succeed.

“We find ourselves very, very challenged to make sure seventh- and eighth-graders are ready for high school,” Ward said. “I will tell everybody in this room, we’re not bringing it, as a district (on that front).”

Ward said seventh- and eighth-graders currently have some of the highest suspension rates in the district and are roughly 30 percentage points behind state peers in most subjects.

Wyetta Hayden, DPS chief of school improvement, said grouping all seventh- and eighth-graders into eight schools — rather than the current 17 — will allow the district to cluster appropriate staff and offer better academic options. That means making algebra and career tech courses available to all of those students, with the hope of adding marching band and middle school sports.

She also said it ends the practice of having kindergarteners in the same hallways as 14- and 15-year-old eighth-graders.

Associate Superintendent Shelia Burton said the district looked at enrollment, location and transportation issues in deciding which schools would become middle schools. DPS Curriculum Director Bob Buchheim, a former middle school teacher and principal, called the switch a win for all elementary-age students, and “a must” for middle-schoolers who are preparing for high school.

The Ohio Department of Education has warned the district that it is at risk for state takeover, and DPS is trying to improve based in part on recommendations from the state. Ward said the state made no suggestion about grade reconfiguration, but she said school officials will make sure the transition aligns with basic principles emphasized by ODE.

Strong opposition

The school board vote on the change was not unanimous. Board President Adil Baguirov first suggested delaying the decision a week, then abstained from the vote.

Board member Joe Lacey was the lone vote against the move, arguing that the district just dropped the middle school system less than a decade ago, when the district’s overall performance index was the worst in the state. He also warned of possible fallout.

“We are in a competitive environment. We had a school called Patterson-Kennedy on Wyoming Street and we closed it because we had too many schools,” Lacey said. “Just a few years later, Emerson, a charter school, opened (blocks away) and became one of the highest-performing schools in the city.

“You can’t treat people like this and not expect … people to leave Dayton Public Schools.”

Wright Brothers parent Alicia Walden said her kindergartener struggled to trust or even talk to teachers and staff for months. She’s angry that after finally building those relationships, he will have to start over at a new school next year.

“It’s hard to explain to a borderline autistic kindergartener that the teachers that he knew and loved are going to be gone,” Walden said.

Vickie Buck, whose son attends Wright Brothers, described the move as ripping apart a family of students, teachers and parents who support each other. Meanwhile, Zakiya Sankara-Jabar asked the district to make sure the reconfiguration didn’t leave lower-scoring schools in West Dayton with fewer resources.

Even some in favor of the plan had concerns. Teachers union President David Romick was upset that teachers had little notice and no involvement in planning. Ruskin Elementary teacher Karissa Jobman worried that the plan would have to be thrown together too quickly and called for a task force to make sure it is done right.

Next steps

The district posted a detailed timeline on its website, saying parent meetings would be held at affected schools over the next two weeks. Burton said the district will begin to send notifications of 2016-17 school assignments to parents next week, giving them about three weeks to respond before open enrollment begins March 1.

Teachers’ deadline to file school transfer requests is Feb. 15. DPS Human Resources Director Judith Spurlock said she is already beginning discussions with the teachers union about staff needs.

“I want this to be successful. I think it could turn this district around,” said school board member Hazel Rountree. “It’s the move that we need. We can’t keep doing little baby steps and expect change.”

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