The Ohio Department of Education is keeping an eye on Dayton Public Schools this year. The district is on watch: it has three years to stop failing on state report cards, or face a state takeover.
A review team released its recommendations in May with ways to improve DPS. Some changes are already underway in classrooms across the district.
Melodie Larsen teaches 5th grade at Edwin Joel Brown School in Dayton. Larsen has been with the district nearly 30 years. She’s passionate and focused.
“I’ve put my whole heart into this," Larsen said. "I don’t come to work at 7:45 and go home at 3 o’clock. I go home. I worry about my students. I worry about what happens to them. And I can’t imagine doing anything else."
Most schools probably have a Melodie Larsen. But the district continues to receive failing grades on the Ohio Report Cards. Because of that, Dayton was put into “monitor” status by the department of ed earlier this year.
That means state staff visited Dayton in January to talk to teachers, administrators, parents and students. One big theme popped up in the report that followed: programs and missions changed too often with too little follow-up from district administrators.
Larsen says there’s not always good communication about changing mandates from the local or state level.
“There’s over 1,000 teachers. And that’s just teachers, that doesn’t count any of the support staff,” she said. “It’s hard to keep everybody informed of everything that’s going on.”
Though she says she has noticed some improvement this school year. Larsen also says this year—as opposed to previous years—teachers are getting professional development during the school year.
“They always do a week in the summer where we have training. And I’m sure that will continue, but it is difficult for all the teachers to make that.”
Plus, no one was tracking how many teachers showed up before. Superintendent Lori Ward says she is taking the district review report as a guide.
“We took the recommendations and said, you know, where really do we have gaps?”
The district is adjusting its reading curriculum. Last school year, almost a third of third graders in Dayton Public Schools failed the state’s mandatory reading exam. District officials are also focusing more on student attendance and health. There will be more nurses and counselors, and they’re tracking kids who don’t show up for school and following up with the parents.
Teacher recruitment is another concern. Lots of teachers choose to work at local charter schools—which can pay more. And the review pointed out a lack of support for new teachers. Plus, Lori Ward says changes to the state’s retirement system have drained the district.
“We’ve lost 100 teachers each year over the past three years,” Ward said.
DPS made 135 new hires for this school year, but it’s still 37 teachers short—mainly in math and science. So, long-term subs are filling in. Superintendent Lori Ward says another challenge is that Dayton is a high-poverty district.
Clairie Huff-Franklin is the director of the state’s Academic Distress Commission and she’s overseeing the reform efforts for Dayton.
“We don’t use poverty as an excuse to not achieve,” Huff-Franklin said.
Dayton isn’t the only high-poverty, urban district in trouble right now. Youngstown has had issues for years; Trotwood-Madison is considered “at risk” as well. Huff-Franklin says the state is stepping into each of these districts in an attempt to level the playing field.
“When these students go for a job, you know, they’re competing with all socioeconomic backgrounds, but they want the same opportunities and chances as everyone else.”
Huff-Franklin and her team plan to be back in Dayton before the end of the year to evaluate the district’s progress so far.