Rather than lecture from a podium, Toledo Public Schools Superintendent Romules Durant sat in an armchair and interviewed his cabinet members in front of an audience for Wednesday’s State of the District Address at Scott High School.
He asked questions about finances, district operations, early childhood education, and K-12 classroom initiatives to highlight the successes and challenges at TPS with a new school year is underway.
Romules Durant helps give the 2017 State of the District report at Scott High School in Toledo.
The state Department of Education released its annual report cards last month, and the grades were not good for Toledo. The district received an F in overall achievement, the category that measures the number of students who passed state tests and how well they performed on them.
But TPS officials contend the state’s report card is overly broad and doesn’t represent fairly the progress of Toledo and the state’s other urban districts, which also tend to receive poor marks.
Urban districts are dealing with more poverty and homelessness than their suburban counterparts, with TPS enrolling the highest number of homeless students in the state at 2,690. District officials said 2,000 of those children were living doubled-up, meaning there was more than one family living in one dwelling. The others reported living in shelters.
“We’ve always had the highest percentage of homelessness. We just continue to battle it,” Mr. Durant said.
This year Mr. Durant and the board created their own report card and data dashboard to provide the community more context for student achievement.
Jim Gault, the district’s chief academic officer, said his goal is to reach an A grade on the state’s report card and graduate 100 percent of students.
“Our goal is to get to 100, but I think we need to take a moment and celebrate the successes that we’ve had,” he told the crowd.
In the last three years, the district’s four-year graduation rate grew from 63.9 percent to 72 percent. Graduation rates over the last two years for African-American students and Hispanic students have grown by 11 and 16 percent, respectively.
Seniors in career technology programs are graduating at 98 percent, Mr. Gault said.
“If we continue to work our plan, we’re going to reach our goal,” he said. “Our goal is to take every child, find their interest, set their goals, and together we’ll see that graduation rate and those scores continue to climb.”
Early childhood education is key to improving test scores and increasing graduation rates, Mr. Durant said.
A child’s brain is 95 percent developed by the age of 6, and achievement gaps can be detected as early as 9 months, said Amy Allen, the district’s early childhood leader.
“We don’t get those kids into school until the end of that period, age 5 and 6, in a traditional K-12 model,” she said. “We know it’s important for us to reach out and work with families and work with children early on because that’s the critical times when their brain is developing.”
Mr. Durant said he’s pushing for universal pre-school. If low-income children who can’t afford pre-school are starting kindergarten alongside their affluent counterparts, they’re beginning their TPS career on unequal footing, he said.
“To be able to resolve that, to make sure that every child has the right opportunity to be at the right starting point of their educational endeavor, we have to get involved much more early on in age,” he said.
Toledo resident Jennifer Assaad said she was pleased with Wednesday’s State of the District Address. She supports the idea of universal pre-school, and said she believes it would help move the needle in test scores as well.
She was also impressed by the high graduation rate in career technology programs.
“It really shows you what TPS is doing, and how hard they are pushing to keep moving forward,” Ms. Assaad said.
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