A new reporting team the Dayton Daily News formed in 2018 has sparked conversations and initiatives aimed at addressing the most pressing issues facing the Miami Valley.
The Path Forward has focused on three critical issues that must be addressed for the region to thrive: how the community changes its image as the center of the drug overdose crisis; how Dayton Public Schools can turn around its performance; and what needs to happen for the economy and workforce to prosper in the future.
Six months into the project, the team has produced nearly 100 stories that have informed readers on these topics and kicked off impactful community dialogue.
Some of those discussions have begun with the paper’s 16-member Community Advisory Board, created to help inform the team about the issues of greatest need in the region and provide input for our coverage.
“This board has been incredibly eye-opening for me, as somebody in Dayton who loves this community,” said Nick Ripplinger, founder of Battle Sight Technologies and a member of the advisory board. “I’ve seen so many positive things I didn’t know were going on, as well as some of the not so great things, and the plans from the people working behind the scenes to try and improve those.”
We introduced the topics over the summer:
Reporter Katie Wedell looked at what solutions the community is using to combat the opioid crisis and what it would take to change Dayton’s image as the “overdose capital” of the nation.
“The Path Forward is much appreciated and shows the dedication that Cox Media has in informing our community of the successes and positive outcomes the Miami Valley has experienced since being labeled ‘ground zero’ of the opiate epidemic facing our nation,” said Lori Erion, founder of Families of Addicts.
Wedell looked at local businesses that have found success in helping employees dealing with addiction.
Her reporting also found that veterans — about 10 percent of the total local population — have been more likely to abuse opioids. Some reports have shown veterans are twice as likely to die from an accidental opioid overdose as non-veterans. So she dug into what the Dayton VA Medical Center is doing about that and found that their comprehensive treatment could be a model for other organizations.
With millions in tax money pouring into the region for prevention, treatment and recovery, Wedell also examined whether the money is being spent on the most effective programs available. That story showed how a treatment drug is ending up on the streets and in jails.
Throughout the series, the paper also chronicled personal stories of those who have overcome addiction in our community, showing that recovery does happen.
More addiction crisis coverage:
Dayton Public Schools
Reporter Josh Sweigart has investigated how the district leaders plan to turn the district around. He began with examining the challenges facing Dayton Public Schools: low test scores, hemorrhaging enrollment, poverty and a historic lack of leadership.
He then dove deeper into some of these issues, such as the wide achievement gap between black and white students, racial disparities in discipline, chronic absenteeism, a large number of classes taught by substitutes and students who face staggering obstacles at home.
The Dayton Daily News investigation also found changing the way many of the roughly 1,000 Dayton Public Schools teachers teach is key to the district avoiding a state takeover.
The issue is so critical Superintendent Elizabeth Lolli took what she called an unprecedented step to shut down schools for mandated training for all of their teachers. She also has beefed up their curriculum department, increased classroom oversight and placed significantly more teachers on corrective action plans.
Sweigart also went to Youngstown, which is already under an academic distress commission, to illustrate for readers what a state takeover would mean for Dayton. He found that Youngstown hasn’t made a dramatic improvement under the system.
The team also encouraged dialogue throughout the community with efforts such as hosting a Path Forward: Dayton Schools Facebook group, a podcast and a town hall meeting at Omega Baptist Church that about 60 people attended. Several participants at the town hall, which included parents, community members and district employees, thanked the Dayton Daily News for hosting the event and leading the conversation about how to improve the schools.
Ripplinger said he’s heard a lot of discussion about the series on Dayton Public Schools, even outside the city.
“Even down in Springboro, people are concerned about Dayton Public Schools… asking how they can get involved, because it’s truly a community here,” he said. “It’s not just a Dayton problem.”
More Dayton Public Schools coverage:
Jobs and the economy
Reporter Lynn Hulsey has worked to identify the top employers in the region’s economy — dominated by manufacturing, health care and government jobs — and examined whether or not they are positioned well for the future.
She also investigated what it will take to ensure the region’s workforce has the skills demanded by employers now and into the future. Her reporting found training programs that are at capacity or have waiting lists and employers struggling to find workers in key industries.
The coverage of jobs and the economy has been extensive, said retired Air Force Col. Cassie Barlow, chief operating officer at the Southwestern Ohio Council for Higher Education and a member of the Dayton Daily News Community Advisory Board.
The stories have been informative about what’s already happening in the region in terms of workforce development, where the in-demand jobs are and where the gaps are, she said.
“Lynn’s done a really good job as well of identifying all of the really good things going on in the community and who’s doing what,” Barlow said. “I’m looking forward to the next steps. What’s a good strategy… And who needs to come together based on what we found?”
More jobs and economy coverage: