Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley celebrated progress in preschool and after-school programs, but said ensuring access to high-quality K-12 schools remains the toughest challenge in her three-year-old City of Learners effort.
City of Learners has been Whaley’s signature program, launched on the day she took office as mayor in January 2014, with a target of using education to improve the city’s workforce and long-term economic health.
“When we improve our schools and our preschools, we make our neighborhoods and our city stronger,” Whaley said. “When we teach our children well, we are ensuring they will have the skills they need to be great leaders and citizens.”
Representatives of the University of Dayton, the county’s Mentoring Collaborative, Learn to Earn Dayton and numerous other groups attended Wednesday’s “2017 Action Report” release at UD’s Bombeck Family Learning Center.
But there continues to be some disconnect between city leadership and Dayton Public Schools, one year after the parties nearly put competing tax levies on the ballot to pay for preschool. No DPS leaders attended Wednesday’s City of Learners event.
“They have started to get more engaged this past year compared to last year,” Whaley said of DPS activity in City of Learners. “We’d like to see more involvement.”
Reached later in the day, DPS Superintendent Rhonda Corr said she had not received notice of Wednesday’s event, but added that she attended the most recent City of Learners meeting. Corr serves on City of Learners committees on high-quality schools and business partnerships. School board members Joe Lacey and Sheila Taylor are also listed as committee members.
“We’re in it all the way,” Corr said. “We’ve made academic gains, and we look forward to continuing the partnership with the city, and moving Dayton Public Schools forward.”
** High-quality schools: The report pointed out that roughly half of public schools in Dayton (DPS and charter) earned an “A” or “B” for student progress on the 2015-16 state report card. But under City of Learners’ own rating system, placing highest weight on student growth, only three schools were called “high-performance schools” — Stivers, Horace Mann and Ruskin. Another 32 were labeled “intermediate” and 10 were called “struggling” – five DPS and five charter.
“This fall, we will elect a majority of Dayton school board members,” Whaley said. “These leaders can advance our schools, or they can stall progress. I hope Daytonians will get involved in these contests and elected candidates who are serious about being forceful advocates for our children.”
** Preschool access: Dayton voters approved an income tax increase last year that will provide $4.3 million per year for tuition assistance and quality improvement for preschool in Dayton over the next eight years. Whaley said those funds will increase access to high-quality preschool from about 800 students last school year to all 1,900 4-year-olds in the city on full implementation.
“We, in Dayton, are doing hard and intense work to give our kids the chance to compete without having to play catch-up from the start of their school careers,” Whaley said. “In Dayton, we have delivered on the promise that every child deserves to go to a high-quality preschool.”
** After-school/summer: The City of Learners report says fewer than 1 in 5 Dayton kindergarten through third-grade students enroll in summer learning programs. But Whaley pointed out that city and countywide groups won $3.4 million in grants to fund after-school programs over the next five years.
** Increasing mentorship: Whaley said the Mentoring Collaborative of Montgomery County and its partners are mentoring 23,000 children — “encouraging them to make smart choices, listening to them, helping them with their homework and make sure that our young people have a plan for their future.”
Jane McEwen, manager of the program, provided data showing the program has 1,200 youth mentors and 1,900 adult mentors, adding that their AmeriCorps program has added core members and volunteers.
** School-business partnerships: Kelly Geers of Learn to Earn Dayton said work continues on this front. Online courses have been made available to Montgomery County schools in the aerospace, manufacturing, information technology and health care fields, as well as “soft skill” areas such as employability and digital literacy. Once a number of students have taken the courses, an effort will be made to connect them with employers in their area of interest.
“We need internship program, job shadow programs and summer job programs,” Whaley said. “If businesses want young people to be excited and ready for these jobs of the future, employers have to help show our students the way when they are young.”