White House honors Dayton school

Dayton’s Belmont High School was honored by the White House this summer for its Welcome Belmont pilot program, which aims to integrate students of different backgrounds as part of the city’s Welcome Dayton effort.

The White House Task Force on New Americans issued a report last month highlighting 37 “bright spots” around the country where cities, counties and schools made efforts at welcoming and integrating immigrants.

Belmont Principal Melanie Walter said her school started by pairing 10 native-born students and 10 immigrant students this past school year, and will add 20 more pairs this year.

“We don’t look at it as a mentoring program. We look at it as a partnership, because we want everybody to learn from one another,” Walter said. “It’s not, we’re training you to be Americans. We all need to become more familiar with each other’s cultures. That was the idea behind it.”

Walter said several of the immigrant students involved last school year were newcomers to the United States, and some spoke little or no English. Early in the year, the group went to a sports center for a team-building event where students quickly improvised communication techniques to get around the language barriers.

Later in the year, Walter said some pairs of students stayed after school to work together at Belmont’s study tables.

“It went from getting to know one another in the fun activities, where they were developing how they were going to communicate with each other … and it developed into helping with the academics,” Walter said.

The city of Dayton was also honored for its Welcome Dayton Ambassador Program, in which 75 residents have signed up to network with immigrants, share information resources and help with multicultural events.

Dayton school notes

Tax abatement: Ford Weber, economic development director for the City of Dayton, asked the school board to consider a 10-year, 100 percent property tax abatement for the Fairfield Inn and Suites that’s planned for Water Street downtown. He estimated that scenario would result in $2.22 million in abated taxes over 10 years.

“That incentive is necessary to make this project go forward,” Weber said. “Of all the developments Mr. (Jason) Woodard and his team have done along the riverfront, this is the riskiest investment of them all.”

School board President Adil Baguirov said both sides’ legal staffs are reviewing the issue, and the board could potentially vote on the matter in the first week of August.

Farewell: Tuesday was the final school board business meeting for treasurer Craig Jones, a DPS graduate who spent three years as treasurer after a longer, earlier stint with the district.

The school board chose not to negotiate a new contract with Jones, but Baguirov praised him for years of balanced budgets, trimming operating costs and closing the district’s construction program under budget.

Jones got a warm ovation from district staff, thanked them for their support and said he is confident he’s leaving the district in better financial condition than he found it.

Hiwot Abraha, who has been the district’s assistant treasurer, will take over as treasurer next month. Jones said he’s still weighing options on his next move.

Busing: Baguirov called busing “a big, big part of the problem we’ve had at DPS all these years.” He called it a top priority to fix before the school year starts, and said he has confidence in staff after a recent meeting.

Baguirov, who said one of his businesses is a trucking company, also said DPS plans to strengthen the noncompete language in its bus driver contracts, so RTA can’t “steal our drivers.”

Bullying: After an emotional plea from a parent about bullying in schools, Dayton teachers union president David Romick offered to have National Education Association personnel provide bullying training to DPS staff at no cost to the district.

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