Dayton Public Schools suddenly faces new pressure with the school year just a week and a half away, as the expected scores of 2018 spring tests would mean the district is likely only one year of poor results away from state takeover.
In 2016-17, Dayton and Trotwood-Madison scored lowest in Ohio on state tests, and Trotwood schools are one year ahead of Dayton on the same three-year span of poor enough performance to trigger a takeover. Trotwood is charging aggressively into the new year while knowing the state report card release in six weeks will determine whether it will become the third Ohio school district to be taken over by an Academic Distress Commission.
Dayton officials, who thought the district had two more years to improve, confirmed Wednesday that if state test scores don’t improve this coming year, it could face the same fate in September 2019. Superintendent Elizabeth Lolli said she already felt a sense of urgency because of the district’s years of poor performance, but she acknowledged changes will come because of this week’s news.
“It’s just made us more aware that we have less time, and that we have to truly, truly, truly have everybody feel that sense of urgency we’ve been trying to build,” Lolli said Wednesday. “We need to focus on anything that we can change immediately that will affect the results. … We were going to start doing analysis when the (official) scores were released, but now we’ve actually started that (Wednesday).”
DPS has already been making dramatic changes in recent months — about half of its 27 schools will have new principals this fall, and the school day will be lengthened by 15 minutes this year. Much of the front-office staff are doing new jobs, a new curriculum team is offering support to teachers and educational tools such as Imagine Learning and Achieve 3000 have been jettisoned for new approaches.
Teachers union President David Romick said changes made under Lolli have generally been good, and he praised the administration for involving teachers in key decisions. But as many have said, district scores didn’t fall overnight, and it will not be easy to raise them quickly.
“That’s a pretty accelerated timeline, particularly after the disaster that was wrought the year prior — the turmoil under (former Superintendent Rhonda) Corr,” Romick said. “(Teachers) have been part of academic retreats this summer, and we’ve worked on an academic model for classrooms. … That kind of good collaboration has been going on, but for that to be rolled out district-wide, that still has yet to happen.”
That type of change-in-progress has been ongoing at the school board level as well. Four candidates, backed by Mayor Nan Whaley, ran as a ticket to try to grab control of the board in November. Three were elected, and they stated interest in building a new, long-term strategic plan. But if takeover happens, their work could be finished just over a year and a half into their terms.
There are two caveats to the takeover concerns. It is not yet guaranteed that DPS will get an overall “F” on the state report card this September, which would need to happen to keep them on the takeover path. But Lolli said based on preliminary results, she does expect that to happen.
And there has been some movement to change Ohio’s Academic Distress Commission system, in part because Youngstown and Lorain, the two districts that have operated under ADCs for years, have not improved enough via that method to end the takeover process.
A bill was introduced in the state legislature this year to ban state takeovers through 2021, but it was never advanced out of committee. In addition to Trotwood, the Warrensville Heights and East Cleveland districts are subject to takeover this fall if their report cards don’t improve.
Romick said outside issues like student health, poverty and family support can be tough to overcome with the best of classroom approaches. Lolli called on families to support their children’s school efforts and tell district officials what DPS needs to do better. She said making sure kids are simply in school every single day is “the number one thing.”
“We have graduates who have gone on to be phenomenal people, both recently and in the past,” Lolli said. “Dayton Public Schools are not rolling over and playing dead because of the potential that we might be in academic distress. We are stepping up to the plate, and we’re going to hit a home run. We might hit a double and a triple first, but we’re going to hit a home run for the kids that we serve. We’re committed to do that and I believe that we can.”
PATH FORWARD: The broad effort to improve Dayton schools
Under Ohio law, an Academic Distress Commission takes over a school district when it has certain negative state report card results three years in a row.
In past years, a combination of bad grades in the achievement and year-over-year growth categories put a district on that path. With changes to the report card that will be released this September, an overall grade of “F” will now do the same.
If a district hits that third straight year of poor report cards, an ADC takes over. The state superintendent appoints a three-member majority of the Commission, while the local school board appoints one teacher, and the mayor appoints the last member, all within 30 days. That group then has 60 days to hire a CEO who gets broad powers to change staffing, curriculum, class sizes and much more.