- Jeremy P. Kelley Staff Writer
Two months after Dayton’s teachers union issued a vote of no confidence in Superintendent Rhonda Corr and the Dayton school board, the board gave Corr a glowing review in her first annual performance evaluation.
The evaluation, dated Oct. 3 and covering the 2016-17 school year, does not give Corr a grade or measurable rating, as Ohio teacher evaluations do. But it includes a dozen places where the board’s evaluation committee “applauds,” “commends,” and otherwise praises Corr’s actions on academics, busing and personnel.
There are no negative comments in the evaluation, which is signed by Corr and board President Robert Walker. There is only one instance where the evaluation “encourages” Corr to change, by more fully integrating strategic communications into her plan.
School board member John McManus said he produced early drafts of Corr’s evaluation that were more balanced, using a seven-step process he built from his experience in human resources work.
McManus’ first draft, obtained via public records request, grades Corr as “meets expectations” in most categories, while praising her for innovation and educational programs, and grading her lower in personnel management and accepting responsibility.
McManus said while there were “gains across the spectrum” of DPS in 2016-17, he was not satisfied with the “wholly positive” final evaluation, saying earlier drafts were “very balanced.”
“They contained praise for the employees’ achievements, but also constructive criticism where, in my opinion, it was appropriate,” McManus said. “There was some disagreement amongst the board as we approached the final stages of approval … (and) many of the original findings and measurement criteria used in the process were contested in the final days.”
Dayton Public Schools had a very up-and-down 2016-17 year.
The evaluation credits Corr for improvements in student busing, rollout of student technology and educational software, launching new career tech and online school opportunities, winning state grants for school improvement, as well as less tangible things such as “her willingness to propose bold change” and “her tenacity in facing institutional hurdles in place for many years.”
The final evaluation does not mention a several-hundred-student enrollment decline or a multiyear, multischool OHSAA probation for trying to rig a football game in a chaotic athletic year. It does not mention the long, painful contract fight with teachers that nearly led to a strike, or a major decline in the student progress grade for 2016-17 on the state report card.
School board President Robert Walker could not be reached for comment, and teachers union President David Romick declined comment about the tone of Corr’s evaluation.
School board member Joe Lacey said when McManus’ drafts were brought to the full school board, there were disagreements about what to include. Lacey said he lost a “big fight” when he wanted to mention the need for summer school improvements. But Lacey also said McManus’ criticism of the fall 2016 layoff process was unfair, arguing that the board had given Corr support.
“We added things not mentioned in first draft, especially in the reforms that she brought to the classroom,” Lacey said, arguing that Corr is more focused on academic achievement, while former superintendent Lori Ward was more focused on community relations. “The board in general agreed to redraft the evaluation in a more positive light given those reforms.”
The final evaluation credits Corr for academic progress in the district, saying, “Internal and external data thus far show that progress is being made in crucial areas for the first time in over a decade, even after the district’s “A” rating in ‘value-added’ last year.”
That crucial “A” from the state in overall progress came from the final year of Lori Ward’s term as superintendent. In Corr’s first year, 2016-17, the district fell back down to a “D” in overall progress after years of F’s.
Both McManus’ draft and the final evaluation go further on tests, saying “the committee notes with great pride the increases made in test scores and reading proficiencies throughout the district. In nearly every measurable category, students enrolled in Dayton Public Schools have improved in performance since Superintendent Corr assumed her role.”
But data from the 2016-17 state report card shows more mixed data, with DPS students’ test proficiency rates rising on 12 state tests and dropping on 11 others. The grade in K-3 Literacy improved from an “F” to a “D,” but the overall Performance Index dropped from No. 605 in the state to No. 608, ahead of only Trotwood-Madison.
Corr said this week that change takes time, but she is confident she has the right team in place, and that the district will see “significant gains in many areas this year” after changes in textbooks, classroom instruction and teacher coaching.
“It is a shame that so much attention is given to negativity and it tries to take us away from this urgently important work of student achievement, academically and social-emotionally,” Corr said. “Those who care reach out to us to support our efforts and we truly appreciate the greater Dayton community for their support and encouragement.”
In Corr’s brief formal reply to the evaluation, she says she is shifting the culture of “we’ve always done it this way and doing it AT people, to an open-minded, big-hearted, new culture of collaboration and doing it WITH people,”
“Are we where we want to be yet? No, but we are moving in the right direction,” she added Thursday. “It takes a village and we are collaborating more with the community.”
McManus said it was difficult for him to “come to peace” with wholesale changes to the evaluation process he built for Corr, Treasurer Hiwot Abraha and Internal Auditor Randall Harper. But he said he has enough respect for the rest of the board “to accept when I’m in the minority on a particular issue.”
“As chairman of the committee, I sat down with each employee with my original draft evaluations and engaged in difficult conversations about what needed to be discussed,” he said. “That I had control of, and that’s precisely what I did. I wish I could have retained that degree of control throughout the entirety of the process, but on a multi-member body, that’s not the process and you can’t move forward if you don’t have consensus.”