Oct. 12—Voters in the Dayton Public School district will elect four school board members this fall, during a crucial period for the district, but the process is slightly unusual.
Only three candidates met board of elections deadline to have their names listed on the ballot — incumbent Jocelyn Rhynard, newcomer Chrisondra Goodwine and former board member Joe Lacey.
That means at least one of the four certified write-in candidates also will be elected. They are incumbent Karen Wick-Gagnet and newcomers Ken Hayes, Eugene Jackson and Ronnee Tingle.
Dayton Public Schools has a windfall of over $130 million in federal COVID funds and is deciding how to use them to move the school district forward.
Background on school board
The school board has seven members, and they serve four-year terms. Board members Mohamed Al-Hamdani and William Harris chose not to run for re-election this term and will step down in January. Board members Will Smith, Gabriela Pickett and Dion Sampson are halfway through their terms and will be up for re-election in 2023.
According to the Ohio School Boards Association, local board members are responsible for hiring and evaluating the district's superintendent and treasurer, engaging parents and community members, plus the long-term work of setting educational goals and policies for the district.
Board members vote on personnel issues, educational decisions and budget items that are presented by the superintendent and treasurer, but they do not manage day-to-day district operations. Board members are paid $125 per meeting, not to exceed $5,000 per year.
Goodwine, an attorney, cited employee satisfaction and investment in extracurricular activities as her two biggest issues. The former DPS substitute teacher and coach said sports, music, after-school clubs and other activities keep kids involved and also give them incentive to work hard in school.
She said while pay is important, the district needs to improve communication with staff and work with them to improve mental health and work-life balance. "We have to be able to talk to people and ... make them feel more connected and invested not only in the growth of themselves but their growth in this district," Goodwine said.
Goodwine said she wants to help DPS win, saying continuing growth in multiple areas would be a sign of success — academic scores rising, school activities developing, and students and staff eager to come to school.
Lacey, a government finance professional and DPS parent who previously served 12 years on Dayton's school board, pointed to district finances as his top issue. He worried about whether the district can sustain teacher staffing levels, because many new hires are paid with one-time federal money.
Lacey said the district must address the academic performance gap for Black male students, and he wants greater investment in after-school and summer programs. On COVID response, he criticized the district for its six-week holiday shutdown in 2020, and he said he would look into the idea of mandatory vaccination.
He said after 12 years on the school board, he brings knowledge of what has worked. He touted his independence as a strength.
"There was an argument that successful boards are kind of in lockstep, or they don't argue," Lacey said. "That's just ridiculous. People can disagree on successful boards."
Rhynard, a current school board member and parent of four DPS students, said the district "lost a lot of ground" because of COVID disruptions, so academic recovery is the most important issue today.
DPS had improved academically in 2018-19, but Rhynard said the state report card is "an incomplete view," and pointed to many successful DPS graduates as another way to show the school district's effectiveness.
Rhynard said parent engagement and social-emotional work with students and staff are key issues. She said the district's budget is stable right now, but depends on how state funding changes will work out. On spending, Rhynard said DPS should prioritize competitive salaries and taking care of district buildings and other physical assets.
"I deeply believe in the power of public education (and) in the ability for this district to reach students and educate them," she said.
Tingle, a DPS parent who runs a construction company, said accountability and communication are two big areas the district needs to improve. She said the buck is passed too often, and if elected she will work to get answers to parents more quickly.
She's also concerned that DPS' newly enforced quadrant busing system will limit families' choices of schools and the special programs that sometimes come with them. Tingle said the district must protect funding for teachers' curriculum, materials and tools.
She said the best way to determine if DPS is succeeding is to ask the students themselves.
"I would evaluate that with exit interviews from the seniors who are leaving," Tingle said. "I would find the children who dropped out along the way and see what could have been done for that family or that child. ... It usually wasn't just, school was too hard.
Jackson, a retired DPS teacher and YMCA director who still does substitute teaching, said schools need to work harder to identify potential in students and give them responsibility to cultivate them as young leaders.
He called for peer and community tutoring in school cafeterias, regular events where the public could come to their school and hear students perform, and hiring of more school counselors to address mental health.
"We need to be more parent friendly," Jackson said. "I'm not afraid to bring parents into the schools. I welcome their concerns, confrontations, criticisms and their communication. I want to know what they want for their children. And if it's success, then we need them to help us to work on their student's positive attitude."
Wick-Gagnet is a restaurant owner and current school board member whose children graduated from DPS. She wants the district to focus on students' social-emotional issues, in light of COVID challenges and trauma that families have experienced.
Wick-Gagnet said DPS needs to expose kids to career paths earlier in school, in ways that excite them, and consider what the district offers in its high schools, as it looks at projected enrollment declines. She wants to see more opportunities in sports, music, debate and other clubs for students, and she said the district is a success if it is continuously improving.
"The district will need to continue to make sure we're competitive in wages — what we offer our staff who are executing education, learning, social-emotional stuff — so we can retain and grow the staff that we need," she said.
Hayes, a DPS parent and assistant professor at Central State, said better communication is crucial, both on specific problems like this fall's busing struggles, as well as improving the district's overall image — he said many residents told him not to enroll his kids in DPS.
"We need to do a better job of highlighting the things that we succeed at, be more ... transparent about the things we're failing at, and come up with more direct communication on our proposed solutions," he said.
He said good employee pay is important given longstanding staff turnover problems, and he said the district should be open to the idea of a new tax levy. He said DPS will be a success when it is getting all students good access to resources, so they can build successful lives.