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Dayton plan would close elementary school, study closing high school

Valerie Elementary, the Innovative Learning Center and Dayton Public Schools headquarters building would all close this fall, if Dayton’s school board adopts the recommendations presented Tuesday by Acting Superintendent Elizabeth Lolli.

Those first steps were part of a three-year plan that included the possibility of more closings in the future, at both the elementary school and high school levels.

RELATED: Dayton residents offer feedback on school priorities

Lolli also recommended consolidating the district’s seventh and eighth-graders, who are currently spread across seven different schools, into four buildings. Stivers would remain a school for seventh- through 12th-graders, but all other seventh- and eighth-graders would attend the three middle schools – Wogaman, Wright Brothers and E.J. Brown.

Asked Tuesday night whether the school board would be ready to vote on the detailed plan by the March 20 meeting, as originally planned, Harris said that is not a sure thing.

“We feel good about the recommendations. A lot of work went into it and the analysis is good,” Harris said. “It may not be (next week). The important thing is that we are processing that information and continuing to listen to our community.”

RELATED: Lolli to present recommendation; court challenge pending

Lolli said after meeting with parents from all nine of the lowest-enrolled schools, she understands the pride and connection many residents have with their schools. But she also said hard decisions would be made.

“There’s a very uneven education offered right now to our seventh and eighth-graders,” Lolli said, mentioning that some are in schools with kindergartners and others with high school seniors. “We need to focus in on seventh- and eighth-grade education, and the supports they need.”

Lolli’s recommendation suggests adding an assistant principal and a counselor or social worker to each of the three middle schools. Each of those schools would offer algebra, Spanish, STEM opportunities and after-school clubs.

RELATED: Dayton schools task force speeds up timeline

** Lolli recommended that Valerie – a 50-year-old school with maintenance problems – be closed and demolished, with those students moving to the nearby Meadowdale Elementary school, which would get an extra assistant principal. She said about 100 Meadowdale students would have to move to a school closer to their home.

** She recommended closing the district’s large, under-used headquarters building on Ludlow Street, citing more than $2 million in needed heating and air conditioning work, among other needs. Lolli said the district’s administrative staff could fit in an office building the district owns across the street, referred to as “Ludlow 2.”

** Lolli recommended closing the Innovative Learning Center at Jackson Center on Abbey Avenue and working with the city to repurpose that site. The ILC houses some of the district’s alternative education and in-lieu-of-suspension programs, which Lolli said would fit in the Ludlow 2 building.

RELATED: DPS task force stops tour after legal challenge

** The superintendent said the school district should begin a review of its high school offerings, both in academics and geography, with the possibility of turning Meadowdale and/or Dunbar into a specialty school, such as for gifted students.

But she also mentioned the possibility that a high school could be closed by fall 2020. She mentioned Dunbar, Thurgood Marshall, Belmont and Meadowdale as possibilities. Ponitz, the career tech school, and Stivers, the arts school, were not mentioned.

** Lolli said after meeting with parents of two under-enrolled schools — Dayton Boys Prep and World of Wonder — those school and parent communities will be given a chance to recruit and build up enrollment numbers. But the possibility of closure in a future year would remain if enrollment didn’t grow.

RELATED: School safety forum has focus on mental health issues

Lolli said DPS officials tried to gather as much information as possible before making a decision, mentioning task force meetings, school board meetings, two open community sessions and meetings with parents of all of the lowest-enrolled schools. She said the district also considered report card and school discipline data, among other markers.

But the first public commenters at Tuesday’s meeting were not impressed. David Greer said Lolli’s presentation – detail-heavy in small print with no handout – was hard to follow. Hashim Jabar questioned why the district was putting the burden of school closures on West Dayton students who he said need the most help. David Esrati said the district has to give parents stability rather than making annual changes. And Mary Sue Gmeiner urged the district to focus on improvement so families will come back to DPS, rather than closing schools.

RELATED: District AD, Dunbar principal placed on leave

Harris said the district is aiming for the best long-term structure for its students, and he hopes DPS doesn’t lose students or staff in the short-term turmoil of changes.

“Any decision you make, you’re going to have two different sides, or maybe three or four,” Harris said. “We’re trying to do what’s best for Dayton Public Schools and what’s best for our students. Our major concern is academic achievement and excellence, and that’s what we’re trying to do for our students as we right-size the district, so we will have adequate resources in all of our buildings so that our young people will have a quality education.”

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