4 newcomers to change face of Dayton school board

Nov 09, 2017

The four newcomers elected Tuesday to Dayton’s school board will face “an incredible learning curve,” according to one current member.

Three of the four “slate” candidates who worked together and were endorsed by Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley — top vote-getter William Harris, plus Mohamed Al-Hamdani and Karen Wick-Gagnet — won seats, according to unofficial final results from the Montgomery County Board of Elections.

They’ll be joined by third-place finisher Jocelyn Rhynard, an involved Dayton Public Schools parent who has been a regular at school board meetings.

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The lone incumbent member running for re-election, Joe Lacey, finished a close fifth.

None of the four had run for school board before or worked primarily in education, putting them in the same position as board member John McManus, who was elected two years ago.

“There will be an incredible learning curve,” McManus said of the four new members. “When you’re out there on the campaign trail, you think you have all the answers, and I learned on Day 1 that I didn’t, and I had to learn a great deal. … I think the three incumbents will help them in that journey.”

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In addition to second-year board member McManus, the incumbents are six-year veteran Robert Walker, and Sheila Taylor, who is in her 10th year on the school board.

DPS superintendent Rhonda Corr, associate superintendent Elizabeth Lolli and treasurer Hiwot Abraha all moved into their current roles less than 18 months ago, along with directors of transportation, public relations, athletics and the internal auditor.

Teachers union President David Romick said he was pleased with the election results, as all four winners were among the five candidates the union recommended.

“At this point, even a lack of experience is not as concerning as it might be, because it’s outweighed by the sort of fresh-day, new-day approach that these people are going to bring to the board,” Romick said.

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Harris, the top vote-getter, said he thought voters responded to the slate of candidates’ message and unified vision. He said he understands there will be pressure on the group to accomplish something positive and repeatedly said he looked forward to the challenge. He said the board’s focus will be developed from dialogue between new and existing board members.

“I’m used to a three-point sermon as a preacher. We can’t solve everything, but let’s do at least three things well,” Harris said. “And those areas should primarily deal with building up academic excellence. It will take some time to do evaluation and come up with that plan.”

Corr and district leadership have made a host of recent changes to staffing, curriculum, technology and school structure. In her statement welcoming the new board members Wednesday, Corr referenced a desire “to continue implementing the curriculum and policies that are in the greatest interest of our students.”

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Rhynard said bringing the different personalities together will be interesting for the board, but she has “full confidence” they’ll be able to work well together. She said she’ll spend the next two months before taking office doing research on district systems, state and local school budgeting and how other urban schools have improved performance.

“I think a lot of the things that would improve Dayton Public Schools are tied to better communication — between the board members themselves and with the superintendent, better communication with the public and the city, better communication with our bargaining units,” Rhynard said. “I know educators know a lot more about teaching our kids than I do, and I want to know from them what they want to see happen in the classroom.”

McManus said it’s important that the new board move away from the dysfunction and disruption that was common the past two years.

“This is the time now to start building coalitions and move forward,” he said.

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Harris said he was disappointed that fourth slate member Paul Bradley was not elected. But when asked if the three elected slate members might ask an incumbent to join hands with them to form a four-member voting majority, he was noncommittal.

“I don’t know what kind of dynamic that entails,” Harris said. “We’re going to work together, we’re not going to be individuals. We’re going to work in tandem, and hopefully we can come to some consensus.”

The new school board will be younger than boards of the recent past, with McManus, Rhynard and Al-Hamdani all in their 30s. Romick, joking that he was “somewhat far removed” from his 30s, said he values the energy that young people can bring to the school board, and said he respected them for stepping up to serve.

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The board will have only two black members — Walker and Harris — for the first time in at least 10 years. Two-thirds of DPS students are black. Harris downplayed that issue.

“As long as we put the focus on our children, I don’t see us having any problem at all in terms of race,” he said.