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
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
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
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
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
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
“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
“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
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
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.