Xenia schools name new interim superintendent

Published: Wednesday, August 23, 2017 @ 5:42 PM
Updated: Wednesday, August 23, 2017 @ 8:00 PM

Dr. Gabriel Lofton is the next superintendent for Xenia schools

A new chief administrator has been hired on an interim basis for Xenia Community Schools. He brings 17 years of experience in public education, mostly from serving as an administrator in Cincinnati.

Gabriel Lofton is a former assistant superintendent for Cincinnati Public Schools, where he began his career in 2000 as a middle school teacher. 

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The Xenia school board hired Lofton to serve as an interim superintendent on a one-year contact at an annual salary of $145,000. Based on a recent Dayton Daily News’ analysis of area superintendent salaries, Lofton is in the list of top 10 paid public school administrators in the region, as was the previous superintendent, Denny Morrison, who resigned this summer.

Lofton’s contract includes bonuses for targeted goals, the reward amount to be determined by the school board, and stipulates that he receive the same wage increases as teachers receive through collective bargaining.

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The school board plans to utilize the Ohio School Boards Association in the search for a long-term superintendent, which is expected to begin later this school year.  

Lofton shook hands and greeted community members after school board members voted to approve his contract during a special meeting Wednesday.  

Lofton, who starts work Sept. 11, said one of his first priorities will be getting to know the families, students, teachers and staff members.

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“It’s a great community,” he said. There are “lots of great things happening in terms of student achievement and I want to be a part of that to continue the great work that has occurred and to move that work forward. I’m excited to be here.”  

The Xenia school board received 17 applications for the position. From that, board members narrowed the pool to six for first interviews and selected Lofton from three who were chosen for follow-up interviews.  

Xenia Board of Education President Pam Callahan said the board is pleased with its decision and confident in Lofton’s leadership.  

“We are positive that Dr. Lofton is going to move this district forward and keep up the momentum that we’ve already built,” Callahan said. “He’s very qualified. He’s got teacher experience. He’s got experience as a principal … We just know that he’s going to be great.”

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New details: Ousted teacher let student spend night at her home

Published: Friday, April 20, 2018 @ 6:41 PM

Trotwood teacher finds job in jeopardy after unapproved field trip

Khalilah Forte, the Trotwood-Madison High School teacher whose contract was non-renewed Thursday night by the school board, had been reprimanded in March for allowing a student to spend the night at her home, according to documents in her personnel file obtained by the Dayton Daily News.

An April 4 letter from district Treasurer Janice Allen says high school Principal David White wouldn’t recommend renewing Forte’s contract for next school year. White based his decision on, “concerns regarding your professionalism. This includes conflicts with peers as well as concerns regarding your relationships with students outside the classroom,” the letter says.

EARLIER: Trotwood board votes not to renew teacher’s contract

The March 7 reprimand letter from White addresses a female student spending the night at Forte’s home. It suggests the issue has come up before.

“I have spoken to you prior to this incident about students being at your home when school is out for the day or on weekends,” White’s letter reads. “This is a violation of district policy.”

Forte signed that reprimand but wrote in at the bottom, “I’m signing this statement and I am not in agreement with the reprimand …”

Also in Forte’s file is a six-page letter marked received April 3, in which Forte describes her efforts to help the struggling 18-year-old female student in question, who she said had been left alone in Trotwood when her mother and siblings moved to Indiana.

RELATED: Trotwood names Olverson interim superintendent 

Forte wrote that she told multiple school officials that she was considering taking the girl in, saying some of them encouraged it and none of them said it would be a violation.

Forte, who has taught business classes at Trotwood-Madison High School the past two years, couldn’t be reached for comment Friday. Her personnel file doesn’t include any district discipline for “conflicts with peers” as mentioned in the non-renewal letter.

At Thursday’s school board meeting, Forte repeated claims that she was being disciplined for taking a few dozen students on a college visit trip last month that the district didn’t sponsor. The personnel file doesn’t include any mention from the district about the trip.

RELATED: State test results key factor in Trotwood schools’ future

“I’m guilty of loving kids. I’m guilty of wanting education for each one of my kids in the district,” Forte said at the school board meeting. “I’m guilty of feeding kids. I’m guilty of wanting to expose them to a world of possibilities.”

Several students and community members spoke up on Forte’s behalf at the meeting.

School district officials have said they won’t discuss the details of personnel decisions, with school board President Denise Moore repeating that statement Thursday night.

Staff Writer Sean Cudahy also contributed to this report.

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Veteran school leader now Hamilton’s new boss

Published: Thursday, April 19, 2018 @ 8:00 AM

Hamilton Schools’ Business Director will continue to be schools’ leader through 2018-2019 school year

When a school district needs to unexpectedly fill its top job, it’s rare to already have someone within its ranks who has done the job.

But that’s what Hamilton school officials had at their disposal when the city school board ordered now-former Superintendent Tony Orr on leave in February as the board launched an independent investigation into allegations Orr violated district policies.

MORE: Both sides stay quiet on reason behind Tony Orr’s resignation

Orr resigned last week under circumstances still largely unexplained by him or the school board that hired him.

Waiting on the school system’s bench was Hamilton Schools Business Director Larry Knapp, who most importantly had the titles of “superintendent” and “interim superintendent” on his resume.

Hamilton Schools leader Tony Orr resigned Thursday after being on paid leave for more than 2 months.(MICHAEL D. CLARK/STAFF)

Last week, after the Hamilton Board of Education accepted Orr’s resignation, board members announced at the same meeting that Knapp would continue as superintendent for the 10,000-student school system for the 2018-2019 school year.

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“Because he was a superintendent at one time the board felt he would be the right person to put in that position,” said Board President Steve Isgro, when asked about the move.

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“He brings 38 years of experience to this full-time role and has been in our district for the past three years,” said Isgro.

Knapp, who was Edgewood Schools superintendent from 2008 to 2010, later served as interim superintendent in Warren County’s Kings Schools.

Hamilton Schools’ leader for next school year will be the district’s business director, Larry Knapp. Knapp was appointed as interim superintendent on Feb. 5 when Hamilton school board ordered now former superintendent Tony Orr on leave as the board investigated allegations he violated board policies. Knapp is a former superintendent with Edgewood and Kings school systems.(MICHAEL D. CLARK/STAFF)

Knapp, said Isgro, will help in preparing the next full-time superintendent — starting in the 2019-2020 school year — Michael Holbrook, assistant superintendent of instructional services.

Holbrook is also an education veteran, a former school principal and district-level curriculum administrator for Hamilton County’s Mount Healthy and Northwest school districts.

“Mr. Holbrook and his instructional staff have been very instrumental in overseeing the strides that have been made with the progress of our schools,” Isgro said. “We’re excited we can move on like this and not lose any steps.”

Under Orr’s leadership since he was hired in 2015 the district showed improvement in 18 of 23 academic areas measured by the annual state report card compiled by the Ohio Department of Education.

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Knapp said he is glad to serve as a bridge leader for Hamilton Schools until Holbrook takes over after the 2018-2019 school year.

“Our whole direction with this process we have been going through is to keep the momentum going for all the good things we have going on here at Hamilton City Schools,” said Knapp, who will also continue to serve as the district’s business director through next school year.

“Our state test scores have gone up and I am very confident those scores are going to continue to climb again next year as well. Our whole push has been to continue the momentum that has been started here the last three years and keep that going,” said Knapp.

“We have a lot of dedicated individuals in our schools … we’ve been able to come together as a group and continue to keep things moving forward for the Hamilton community,” he said.

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Mason student, 8, abandoned on bus; driver fired

Published: Wednesday, April 18, 2018 @ 2:49 PM

An 8-year-old Mason boy was abandoned for hours on a parked school bus leading to the firing of the driver and an apology from school officials with promises to reform their absence reporting systems. 
An 8-year-old Mason boy was abandoned for hours on a parked school bus leading to the firing of the driver and an apology from school officials with promises to reform their absence reporting systems. (FILE PHOTO)

An 8-year-old Mason boy was abandoned for hours on a parked school bus, leading to the firing of the driver and an apology from school officials with promises to reform their absence-reporting systems.

Earlier this month, a Mason school parent put her son on a school bus expecting him to be safely transported to Mason Early Childhood Center.

But Colleen Peters, who later posted about the incident on her Facebook page, wrote her boy “fell asleep on the way to Mason Early Childhood Center. Every child got off the bus but mine.”

MORE: Local school districts scramble after state testing system fails

“The bus driver was supposed to do 2 checks per protocol to make sure no one, or anything is left on the bus. That did not happen,” said Peters.

“Also, there is a system in place to inform parents if their child is absent. In usual cases, that includes a phone call, a text, as well as an email. We did not receive that phone call, or text, or email. As far as we knew our son was safe at school,” she said.

Peters told this news outlet Wednesday that the April 3 experience was “horrific,” and she now drives her son to and from school because he is scared to get on a school bus.

Mason schools “handled it very poorly,” she said.

MORE: Mason school officials apologize for racist incident

“I got a phone call from the principle at MECC at 2:14 (p.m.) that my son was left on the bus for the entire day. It was an unusually humid warm day temps reaching 77. My son got off the bus at 1:50pm by prying the door open that day. He didn’t know where he was, and was very scared (his words not mine),” Peters wrote on Facebook.

While trying to get an adult’s attention at the school bus parking lot, Peters wrote that her tearful boy was ignored by some adults working there as they walked past him into the garage office, she claimed.

Finally, she said, “there was a lady that went on a smoke break that found him and helped him inside (the office).”

Mason school officials apologized to Peters and said the substitute bus driver was fired and a new requirement of all student absences — unexcused and excused — will be confirmed with phone or other communications with school parents within two hours of the start of each school day.

The MECC attendance secretary responsible for confirming absences was reprimanded.

MORE: Mason’s new school leader is familiar face

Before the end of the school day, officials said they will place a second call to all families who have not provided a reason for their child’s absence

“We hate that this child was left on the bus. There were some very serious mistakes,” said Mason Schools spokeswoman Tracey Carson, who added that school officials have offered Peters’ child counseling after the incident.

“Our practice has been that teachers are required to accurately record their students’ attendance in our student information system in the first 15 minutes of school,” said Carson.

“We’re analyzing our systems and doing more to try to reduce the opportunity for human error,” said Carson, who said the new procedures will begin Monday in the 11,000-student district, which is the largest in Warren County.

Peters wrote: “I’m not telling this story to harm anyone or blast anyone, because everyone has seemingly been apologetic as much as they can be while covering for themselves. I don’t think anyone really wants anything like this to happen again. I’m telling you all as a mom, because my heart aches so hard since this happened. I haven’t slept, I’ve had the worst of days worrying about just dropping my kid off at school, being able to trust the (school) administration.”

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Expert: No one can help suicidal teens quicker than classmates

Published: Thursday, April 19, 2018 @ 5:00 AM

            Dr. Greg Hudnall presented to the community a new anti-teen suicide program that will begin next school year at Lakota Schools. Hudnall spoke to Lakota parents, students and district officials Monday evening at Lakota East High School. Hudnall is a national champion for suicide prevention in schools and communities and Hope Squad founder. MICHAEL D. CLARK/STAFF
Dr. Greg Hudnall presented to the community a new anti-teen suicide program that will begin next school year at Lakota Schools. Hudnall spoke to Lakota parents, students and district officials Monday evening at Lakota East High School. Hudnall is a national champion for suicide prevention in schools and communities and Hope Squad founder. MICHAEL D. CLARK/STAFF

When teens think about killing themselves there is often one group that knows about it first — fellow teens.

A new program coming to Lakota Schools at the start of next school year plans to use that documented tendency as part of a nationally acclaimed anti-teen suicide strategy that is working where many others have failed.

MORE: Lakota to adopt new program to stop teen suicides

The plan calls for directly involving students for the first time in “Hope Squads” because — as founder Dr. Greg Hudnall, a national champion for suicide prevention in schools told 80 Lakota school parents, students and officials Monday — nobody knows teens like teens.

“We’re often afraid to talk about suicide because we’re afraid it will give someone the idea,” Hudnall told the audience at Lakota East High School.

“The reality and research shows it is actually the opposite,” said the former Utah school district official, who founded Hope Squads that have since been adopted by many school districts in Southwest Ohio and nationwide.

In schools where Hope Squads have been formed, recent data analysis show that over 25 percent of all referrals to counselors have been from Hope Squad members. Of those referrals, 14 percent have been hospitalized for successful treatment, Hudnall told the audience.

The squads will consist of students specially trained to identify at-risk students, provide friendship and seek help from adults.

The “critical piece” of the Hope Squad strategy, he said, is the peer-to-peer component.

Hudnall shared a story about a Utah high school teen who came to school one day and gave his best friend his watch — a cherished family heirloom — and said he wouldn’t be needing it anymore. The friend was perplexed and didn’t have any formal adult contacts at school to turn to and share his concerns about his friend’s strange behavior. Shortly after, the boy killed himself.

“Of the people who commit suicide, 7 out of 10 will tell a friend, but the friend will never tell an adult,” he said.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide rates for adolescent boys and girls have been steadily rising since 2007.

And the problem is especially dangerous for teen girls, according to the center’s data, which shows the suicide rate for girls ages 15-19 doubled from 2007 to 2015, when it reached its highest point in 40 years.

The suicide rate for boys ages 15-19 increased by 30 percent over the same time period.

MORE: A Mason High School mother whose son killed him self offers warnings

Both Lakota East and Lakota West high schools will have Hope Squads in place when classes start in August.

But Hudnall cautioned the positives of the new program “will not happen overnight.”

He said his group’s research shows “it takes two to three years to change a school culture.”

“We can’t prevent every suicide, but we can prevent many,” he said.

Lakota East junior Alyssa Longworth is eager to start her work as a member of the school’s first Hope Squad.

“Our family recently had a suicide. Suicide is a big problem, especially for my generation and I just want to do as much as I can to prevent it from happening,” said Longworth.

“I want everyone (classmates) to feel welcomed in the community and feeling happy. It’s great to have this program and be trained in what to do,” she said.

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