East Toledo was an asset to his climb to top position
How does an inner city boy grow up to become, at age 37, the superintendent of Ohio’s fourth largest school district?
Dr. Romules Durant, the new interim superintendent of Toledo Public Schools, credits a strong family, hard work, a love of education and the supportive East Toledo community for his success.
If he can transfer the values he learned growing up in the Birmingham neighborhood to his more than 30,000 students they will have a better shot at a better life. And, hopefully, he'll help stem the loss of TPS students to charter schools. In 2010, according to TPS figures, an estimated 7,600 students and $44 million in revenue were lost to charter schools.
|Romules Durant, PHD., Superintendent of
Toledo Public Schools. (Press photo by Ken
Before being named superintendent, Dr. Durant was the assistant superintendent of the Bowsher, Scott and Waite learning communities. He has been employed at TPS since 1999 and graduated from Waite in 1994 so he knows the strengths and weaknesses of a school district that is in academic watch, one step above academic emergency, and has a graduation rate of 62 percent.
In an interview last Thursday, Dr. Durant touched upon some of the strategies he and others in the district are currently using and he hopes to expand on. Two of these are statistical analysis and peer leadership. You can learn these strategies in graduate school, but there isn’t a better training ground than football. And, Dr. Durant knows that game. He played for the East Side Raiders while attending Holy Rosary School, played four years at Waite and four more at the University of Toledo.
No one does statistical analysis better than a major college or pro sports organization. Stats are compiled for every conceivable aspect of the game from a player’s strengths, weaknesses and tendencies to coaching strategies.
Educators have always used statistical analysis, but Dr. Durant, who tutored college students in statistics, believes it is an under-utilized tool.
“Data analysis doesn’t go on as much as you think because it is very difficult to do. Statistics is a deviation of science and science is our lowest performing subject across the country.”
Dr. Durant provided an example of how it can be used. Pointing to a white board on his office wall which had the performance stats of all TPS schools, he recounted how his team of educators was struck by a recent drop in state assessment scores for Harvard Elementary School, normally one of the district’s top performing schools. Two obvious reasons came to light early in the review process—the district went from a K-6 to a K-8 configuration which put teachers in unfamiliar roles and the building underwent a renovation at test time. But, another problem was also detected—while teachers and administrators were concentrating on low-performing students, they didn’t offer enough challenges for high performing students. Implementing a more rigorous, individualized program to challenge these students resulted in a return to the expected high scores the school posted in previous assessments.
Nurturing peer leaders, or captains, is another sports strategy Dr. Durant wants to employ. He is a proponent of reciprocal teaching, a method in which students become the teacher in a small group reading setting. The practice promotes responsibility, team building and leadership skills.
Two mentoring programs reinforce that message. They are the Student African-American Brotherhood and its female counterpart Young Women of Excellence. These programs create a sense of belonging to something bigger than the individual. Both groups have their own colors and identification patches and train students on the path to leadership positions.
“If you don’t provide our youth with leadership avenues, they’ll find them themselves and a lot of times it’s not constructive,” Dr. Durant said.
Dr. Durant said he also benefitted from a stable two-parent home with a strong father. His father Benjamin grew up in a rough section of New York City but moved to East Toledo as a young man. He worked at a spark plug factory in Fostoria and earned his GED from Waite. His mother, Carolynne, is also a Waite graduate. They both believe in public education. When it came time for Romules to choose a high school, his father wanted him to go to Waite where he would experience a “certain level of reality,” be exposed to diversity and have the support of a strong alumni association whose members have had an impact on the national and global scene.
That mentorship and strong male presence made an impact on Dr. Durant and he will seek out ways to provide the same to his students. A lot of this guidance came from the coaches he had when he played in the East Toledo Junior Football League and the time he spent at the East Toledo Family Center. He called the family center “a lighthouse to the community” for the services it provides for students and their families. He will look for more ways for TPS to partner with community and athletic organizations to provide activities and family support.
TPS came late to the fight to stop the flight of students to charter schools as well as to suburban schools through open enrollment. But, in recent years, the district has launched some creative programs that have attracted students from suburban schools. The Toledo Technology Academy, a high school offering a program of integrated academic and technical education to prepare students for a manufacturing career, is one. Another is the Toledo Early College High School in which students can earn up to 60 college credits while earning a high school diploma.
Both have been rated excellent by the Ohio Department of Education.
These programs have had a positive impact on attracting students. In the 2009-10 school year, the district lost the equivalent of 217 students, but it attracted 209 full-time students from neighboring districts.
Dr. Durant wants to see more of this in coming years. Currently, there are two new programs a performing arts school at Bowsher and a construction school at Rogers.
Dr. Durant is a walking example of how a strong family, hard work, a love of education and a supportive community can lead to uncommon success. He is the kind of man who can demand more of his students and show them, by what he has achieved, that education is a way to a better life.