Dayton’s school board Wednesday would not clarify why they placed Superintendent Rhonda Corr on paid administrative leave late Tuesday night, but one board member said it was caused by multiple allegations.
After a six-hour meeting Tuesday, much of it in closed executive session, the school board voted 6-0 to relieve Corr of her duties immediately. They also agreed to issue a pre-disciplinary hearing notice to Corr and elevated Elizabeth Lolli from associate superintendent to acting superintendent.
School board President Robert Walker only mentioned one specific issue at the time of the vote – a compliance report concerning allegations of racial harassment and discrimination against both Corr and Lolli.
School board member Joe Lacey clarified Wednesday that the allegations of racial discrimination mentioned by the board are not the main reason Corr was put on leave.
In fact, Lacey said attorney Beverly Meyer’s report clears Lolli of those charges, and clears Corr of nearly all of them, while acknowledging that Corr’s behavior may have been “unprofessional.”
But Lacey said there are separate allegations against Corr only, not related to the racial discrimination claim, that are the reason Corr has been put on leave. He declined to comment on the nature of those separate allegations.
Corr could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Lolli echoed Lacey’s statement that allegations of harassment or discrimination against her were unfounded.
“Never in 40 years have the words discrimination and or harassment been associated with my name and reputation,” Lolli said. “They won’t be in the next 40 years either because they do not describe who I am or what I stand for.”
Asked Wednesday about specifics of the board’s actions regarding Corr, Walker said he “cannot get into those questions.”
He said the pre-disciplinary hearing notice against Corr, which is supposed to detail the reasons for her potential discipline, was still “in process” Wednesday. DPS attorney Jyllian Bradshaw said that document would not be available until next week.
“I can say emphatically that it has nothing to do with students,” Walker said. “As a matter of fact, her relationship with young people as she went through the schools and engaged with them was really healthy and positive.”
Three newly-elected Dayton school board members whose terms don’t start until January – Jocelyn Rhynard, Mohamed Al-Hamdani and Karen Wick-Gagnet – participated in a portion of the executive session Tuesday night before the vote on Corr.
Rhynard said Wednesday there were “some matters that we needed to be brought up to speed on,” but she said she did not have detailed information about the existing board’s decision to place Corr on leave.
“This is certainly a surprise. There have been a lot of dramatic upheavals in the last year and a half, which is one of the reasons I decided to run,” Rhynard said. “I look forward to finding out more information. And I look forward to being part of a board that will bring stability to the district. There are lots of changes that I would like to make and I look forward to being a part of that process.”
The fourth person who was elected Nov. 7, William Harris, was actually appointed to the board at the beginning of Tuesday’s meeting to fill the last six weeks of Adil Baguirov’s term. So Harris participated in both the executive session discussions about Corr’s status, as well as the votes to place her on leave and name Lolli acting superintendent.
The “yes” votes to put Corr on leave came from four members who will remain on the school board next year — Walker, Sheila Taylor, John McManus and Harris — plus outgoing members Lacey and Ron Lee. Board member Hazel Rountree was absent.
Dayton teachers union President David Romick said he was also surprised by the news.
“As I’ve said all along, the disruption that all of this turmoil has caused to the district is costly,” Romick said. “We are here to reassure our members that the Dayton Education Association is steady and strong and will be there for them. Our members are doing the job every day despite all the disruption and distraction, and will continue to do the job every day because we serve the children of Dayton.”
Corr was hired by Dayton in June 2016 to her first full superintendent post after 25 years in Cleveland schools, then brief stints as a high administrator in the Chicago and Indianapolis school districts since 2013.
After Corr was hired, the district had some highlights — escaping the threat of state takeover based on previous-year test scores, solving some long-running busing problems, and improving textbooks, computer access and career tech options.
But during that same period, Dayton Public Schools were also put on OHSAA probation for trying to rig a football game, had a long, painful contract fight with teachers that nearly led to a strike, and ranked second to last in Ohio on state test scores on the 2016-17 state report card.
After the teachers’ contract fight was resolved, the teachers union issued a vote of no confidence in both Corr and the school board.
Lolli, the new acting superintendent, was hired by Dayton in August 2016. As associate superintendent for teaching and learning the past 16 months, Lolli led efforts to bolster the district’s summer school program and adjust DPS’ preschool structure to work with the Preschool Promise group. She also helped to implement the district’s new teacher-leader program, and adjust how DPS uses classroom aides.
Lolli said Walker called her after 11 p.m. Tuesday, while the school board was still in executive session, and asked her about taking the acting superintendent post. She said she’s privileged to be able to serve Dayton schools and looks forward to continuing the progress made in the past year in reshaping teaching and learning approaches.
Before taking the job at DPS, Lolli served as director of curriculum and instruction for Middletown City Schools, and prior to that held superintendent positions at both Monroe schools near Middletown and Barberton schools near Akron.