One such meeting occurred Tues. evening, Oct. 8, at the Kent branch library in the Old West End. Durant told a crowd of more than 40 people that he has spoken to between 80 and 100 different agencies in the past two months about TPS and the upcoming levy.
Durant, a TPS product himself, told the African-American Legacy Project that the embroidered ‘TPS’ he wears on his cuffs and collar are merely positive branding—in contrast to the tattoos worn by central city gangs that identify who they are.
“It represents housing projects and street names written on their forearm and on their neck,” he explained. “Kids are dying for a street name, because we haven’t provided enough opportunities to be part of that are constructive in a way that regards them as treating them and grooming them as young men and young women.”
The interim TPS superintendent stated that dynamic is starting to change within the schools, as more chapters of Young Men of Excellence and Young Women of Excellence are formed. For example, a new chapter at Waite High School already has 70 members. Those students wear business attire: young men in ties and young women in skirts.
Durant told the group his mission as superintendent is “to address the elephant in the room” as far as the challenges of urban education, starting with kindergarten readiness.
“Understand that the achievement gap starts at nine months of age, but we want to address it as six-year olds,” he said. “So when people ask ‘why push for Head Start and Early Head Start,’ we’re going to address it from pre-natal to three years of age, then three to five years of age—we know where Johnny was at when he was first born. When we see the gap happening, we can address it then instead of waiting six years down the road, because by then they’re already 18 months behind.”
The interim TPS superintendent also spoke of forming more community partnerships to keep kids engaged academically with enrichment activities during school breaks to address what he called “the summer slide.”
“They take two steps forward and all of a sudden they’re two steps back, continuing each year to fall behind their peers,” he said. “Summer slid was identified in 1970 as a problem of the achievement gap—but to this day, America still has summer break.”
The Waite High School graduate spoke of a “balanced calendar,” where students would have a reduced summer break—and that time off instead spread more evenly throughout the academic year. He stated those “conversations are happening” among the school board and administrators now.
For the first time, Durant stated he has kindergarten teachers sitting down with Head Start instructors to devise ways to address the achievement gap in early childhood education.
“Because it’s in your best interests to know what’s coming through your door next year,” he said. “After the first year, who do you think we’re going to add to that? First grade, then second grade-- because when they leave kindergarten, then they’re coming to your room. Eventually the kids hit the third grade guarantee in reading. The best intervention is prevention.”
To that end, the TPS board of education recently reached an agreement with other local agencies to submit a revised bid for a federal grant to run the Head Start preschool program county-wide. The district and the Economic Opportunity Planning Association (EOPA) each submitted competing applications several months ago—and each was rejected. The Head Start program currently is being administered by a Denver-based private provider.
Dr. Durant plans to address each key transition point in a child’s K-12 education with such a strategy to eventually reduce the dropout rate and increase the graduation rate.
“It’s better to be on the front end of support—than a probation officer to be on the back end of support,” he said.
The interim superintendent stated passage of the TPS levy is crucial to continue the district’s transformation plan, which has several key components that have been delayed due to a lack of funding opportunities. He explained that district administrators will continue to strategically pursue federal and state grant to augment many of those programs still on the drawing board.
The TPS levy, known as Issue 24 on the ballot, is a 6.5 mill, five-year renewal levy which would cost the owner of a $60,000 property $104.55 per year. TPS officials are quick to point out it is not a new tax.
Durant told the group the new TPS vision and mission statements emphasize that students come out of the district both “college and career ready.” But he stated poverty, a lack of health insurance, and other community factors also must be addressed in order for a child to be ready to learn.
“Understand that we must address students’ needs physically and socially-emotionally before we can delve into them cognitively in regards to what they know,” he said.
Along those lines, TPS recently ran a mobile vision clinic for students, providing vision screenings for more than 1,100 students. 80 percent of those kids needed prescription glasses. Six had glaucoma and two students had cataracts at an unusually young age.
“All of those things affect a child’s ability to learn,” he said.
The transformation plan already has offered some students increased opportunities, such as Early High School Options (EHSO), where seventh and eighth-grade students who excel can take high school courses. Distance-learning labs have saved the district money and allowed the provision of additional class offerings, because a foreign language or other course can be taught in all six high schools remotely by one teacher. TPS also offers a credit recovery program, where a student who fails a class can retake it during the summer months through an online academy to stay on track for graduation. It also reduces the chances that student will drop out of high school.
Dr. Durant spoke of expanding and replicating innovative programs that already are showing promise. One such idea is to expand Toledo Early College High School (TECHS) and the Toledo Technology Academy (TTA) to include seventh and eighth grade students.
“All of a sudden you can develop a thematic campus, turning a K through 8 school into a STEM academy,” he explained, which would emphasize science, technology, engineering, and math.
One other opportunity is to form gender-based high schools, building off the success of the MLK Academy for Boys and the Ella Steward Academy for Girls.
“Parents who bought into that concept have no opportunity in TPS after the eighth grade, because we have no gender-based high schools,” Durant said. “So St. John’s and St. Francis recruit the guys heavily and the same at St. Ursula and Notre Dame at the girl’s academies. Guess what—parents are all for it because they bought into the concept.”
The idea, he explained, would be to take a building and create separate wings—one for an all-male high school and the other for an all-female high school, but bring the students together at appropriate times so they learn how to properly interact.
“We have what I call the digital paradox,” joked Durant. “They have all the means to communicate, but can’t communicate. Our young men know nothing about courting. Even some of our grown men don’t know. That’s something they have to be taught.”
Durant admitted the district’s biggest challenge may be to change public perceptions of TPS, because those long-held beliefs tend to be negative. He pointed out that TPS is ranked as the ninth-safest school district in the country. Yet perception, he said, is far different from reality. He hopes that a positive branding initiative will change that.
“Because no one is telling our story, the media catches negative stories, and that negative story becomes the whole story,” he said.
Durant also spoke of developing “thematic” K-8 schools, building on the success of such charter schools focused on the themes of performing arts, a maritime academy, and the like. He stated it makes no sense to try to replicate those schools; however, establishing a curriculum earlier in a child’s education based on those successes can lead to earlier opportunities for kids to discover their interests and be successful themselves.
Dr. Durant also stated the long-term transformation plan involves re-establishing a centralized location for vocational technology programs—basically a 21st century version of the Macomber-Whitney model, a pair of TPS vocational high schools that closed.
“The potential of a Macomber-Whitney is huge. The closure Macomber-Whitney probably had a huge impact on the economic status of this area in regard to what it used to produce and what it could have produced since it closed,” he said. “(That impact is) when you talk about individuals who went there primarily to pick up a trade or a business degree, as well as those who alternatively ‘found themselves’ there-- because in their traditional location they were on the verge of dropping out.”
A centralized career-technology center would house popular programs, some of which are only currently offered at one or two high schools. Transportation issues may prevent a student in East Toledo from attending a program held at another school elsewhere in the city, for example.
During a question-and-answer period, Dr. Durant was asked if the two-mile walk zone would be changed and some bus transportation restored if the TPS levy passes.
“That’s a conversation the board is having, because in order to go back to a one-mile radius, it’s going to be a $4 million cost,” he said. “When you’re talking budget, do you impact what’s going on in the classroom or how far you have to get yourself to school?”
The interim TPS superintendent pointed out that the eight largest urban districts in Ohio have each established a two-mile walk zone to save money, because they all face similar funding issues. He also indicated the levy would provide no new money in order to restore something like transportation.
The Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority also is seeking a levy renewal. Issue 1 is a 0.4 mill, five-year renewal levy, which will go to support the agency’s economic and job development programs. The levy would cost the owner of a $100,000 home $6.60 per year and is collected at the level of 1994 property taxes.
The third levy is a 1.8 mill new and replacement levy that would support the Lucas County Board of Developmental Disabilities. The tax issue is designed to replace two existing levies—one first collected in 1958 and the other first approved by voters in 1973. The new levy would add $1 million in funding to support the agency’s programs.
As a result, the owner of a $100,000 property would see an increase of $56.33 per year with the passage of Issue 2.
However, John Trunk, superintendent of the Lucas County Board of Developmental Disabilities, recently announced he is leaving that post to take the top job at the developmental disabilities agency in Summit County, located in Akron. He has served the Lucas County agency as superintendent for 12 years.