Trotwood-Madison teachers and district leaders were at odds over the legality of special education plans, alignment of teaching strategies, data on school discipline and more, days after the school board unanimously gave Superintendent Tyrone Olverson a multi-year contact.
Dozens of teachers walked out of the Dec. 6 meeting where the school board approved that contract. In a letter to the board earlier that day, the teachers union had suggested only a six-month renewal for Olverson to give the board “time to re-evaluate the district’s progress and concerns addressed in this letter.”
On Friday, Olverson, school board President Denise Moore and teachers union President Angela Bruno all separately cited a desire for collaboration on key issues going forward. But it was clear as they head into today’s staff strategic plan review that disagreement remained, over simple facts as well as subjective priorities.
“I just want teachers and administrators to remember why we’re here,” Moore said. “We can go back to the passions that we have for kids. … I really believe the common ground is we all want the best (for kids).”
But the groups don’t agree on the best way to get there, a Dayton Daily News investigation found.
Trotwood schools have struggled in recent years, ranking last in Ohio in state test scores in 2016-17. Olverson was hired in April, and the district narrowly avoided state takeover in September (Olverson acknowledged the testing improvement was not his doing, as he arrived just as state testing was winding to a close).
While the district’s fate was still in question last summer, Olverson launched a significant turnaround plan featuring staff reassignments, community outreach, cornerstones of a new school philosophy and more.
But now the teachers are questioning parts of that plan. The union’s Dec. 6 letter calls some special education procedures “unlawful,” says some students are going without required services, and adds, “There is no true direction and foundation for daily (teaching) instruction.”
Bruno did not answer Dayton Daily News questions on what was unlawful about special education practice. Olverson and Moore said Friday morning, eight days after the letter had been delivered, that they didn’t know what the union was referring to. Olverson said he has not heard of any student going without required services.
Bruno said district, school and teacher teams have not met this year to implement the District Improvement Plan. She said in-house behavioral health services are worse than contracted services last year – a claim Olverson disagreed with – and she said communication with Olverson has been strained.
“I have met with him multiple times, and I made suggestions for things that are concerns, and he has either explained away why that won’t work or just said ‘No’ and dismissed them,” Bruno said in an email.
Olverson said the teachers’ letter caught him off guard, because he has worked closely with the union on many issues. He said some changes moved at “warp speed” when he first took over a district that ranked last in the state.
“I’m not sure where the communication breakdown has happened, but I’ll own that,” he said. “We had to put some things in place and didn’t have time to stop and explain everything. We just had to do some things because they were the right things for kids. Now we need to slow down and explain everything.”
But Olverson also said too many people are “holding on the past” and said staff training scheduled for Jan. 2-4 should serve as a “hard reset” to help district staffers understand “the whys” of Olverson’s turnaround plan.
The union’s letter also said Trotwood has low student attendance and an increase in discipline referrals, arguing those occurred because the district does not have a proper state-required system of Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports.
District leaders said the union’s claims are factually incorrect on those fronts. Olverson said attendance is up and the district continues working on PBIS structure. Moore said monthly discipline reports she reviews show suspensions are down.
Bruno said district-mandated testing is taking away too much instructional time, especially because school schedules were tweaked this year, without teacher input, she said.
Olverson, who came to Trotwood eight months ago from Youngstown schools’ state takeover structure, said there are “good people in Trotwood” but said some of the school district’s systems and approaches needed review, including how special education plans are written. Moore said the school board will look seriously at the teachers’ complaints about special education problems.
Olverson said once the district avoided state takeover in September, some people lost their sense of urgency to improve. He repeatedly said he is optimistic that a “hard reset” of expectations and training will get all parties back on the same page.
Moore said some teachers have been involved in district goal-setting and strategic planning, but if some feel excluded, then the district needs to work on that. She said major fixes take time, but all sides need to focus on the students.
“First and foremost we are for kids,” Moore said of the school board. “We are not for superintendents and we’re not for teachers.”