Marquan Whitiker memorized the number, couldn't keep it out of his mouth. 118 days of summer. 118 days of no school. 118 days until fourth grade.
Never mind that he overshot his vacation's length by about 30 days. He was too happy for facts.
Robinson Elementary nurse Colleen Ryan told him summer had been canceled for third graders, that he must have missed the memo. Marquan protested.
"Nuh-uh," he insisted. "They do that in other countries."
Tuesday was the last day for students this year at Robinson Elementary, ending a year of change at the central- city school.
Not that Marquan or buddy A'Maun Knowles noticed much. Change is what they know.
Both boys went to Martin Luther King, Jr., Academy for Boys the previous year. Many of their friends went to Robinson this year, though not all. It's not unusual for once-close classmates to disappear for a time.
"Sometimes, we won't see you for a year," Marquan said, "but we'll see you next year."
Robinson was fun this year, they said as A'Maun got a bandage from Ms. Ryan for a mysteriously obtained cut on his leg. Both boys had a crew of former King friends in their third-grade class. Both boys liked principal Anthony Bronaugh and assistant principal Angela Hickman-Richburg.
Both boys said next year they'll attend Gesu Elementary School.
Teacher Tamra Bacon proudly displayed tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, and other vegetables that Robinson students had planted in the school's new garden.
She spoke only hours after a 21-year-old named Sherroun Adams ran in front of a passing car half a block away and screamed that he'd been shot. He was taken to Mercy St. Vincent with a single gunshot wound.
The contrast was stark.
The garden project was part of the school's "Project Based Learning Mondays," a weekly after-school program focused on hands-on science lessons. About 35 kids worked with Ms. Bacon and John Page from the Toledo GROWs program, building the garden beds, filling in dirt, planting the seeds.
"They took a lot of ownership of this," Ms. Bacon said.
Children learned about how worms affect the soil and about genetics from hybrid plants. They were fascinated by how small the seeds were that eventually lead to food. Ms. Bacon hopes to expand the garden next year, maybe add five more beds, maybe build benches for outdoor class work, maybe add a weather station, maybe turn unused land nearby into a sunflower field.
If the garden grows, it will be funded at least in part by Robinson's School Improvement Grant. The federal program making the grants took major prominence under the Obama Administration. It is why there has been so much change at Robinson.
The 2009 federal stimulus pumped billions into the program, which provides funding to high-poverty schools identified as the lowest-achieving 5 percent in a state. But to get grants, schools had to choose one of four specific reform programs. It's a large-scale experiment in school overhaul.
The old incarnation of Robinson, a junior high school, long found itself on the bottom of Toledo and state lists for academic achievement. It and three other central Toledo schools won SIG funding this year, the second cohort of the federal grant. The school, now a K-8 building, was awarded about $1.5 million in federal funding and could get two more years of similar awards.
Extra staff and longer instructional hours were some of what resulted from those funds; thus, the Monday afterschool projects.
But with that money came drastic change. The whole staff from last year was removed. Mr. Bronaugh and lead teacher Natalie Sexton were hired by the district and were allowed to pick their own team, without regard for seniority. Many of the positions were filled by teachers rated highly by peers and experienced in urban education.
Teachers got extra resources but also faced higher expectations. Next year the school will initiate a performance pay system for Toledo Public Schools that incorporates student test scores into evaluations.
Other changes are on their way. Robinson was one of four schools selected for a partnership between the United Way and Toledo Public Schools called "schools as community hubs." The United Way provided funding for organizations — the University of Toledo in Robinson's case — to hire a hub coordinator. At Robinson, that coordinator is Marcus Goodwin.
He's been surveying students, staff, and parents and plans to head out soon into the neighborhood to find out what the community wants as services in the building. Some may ask for free medical care. Some, athletic programs. Some, legal aid.
The goal is to make schools such as Robinson centers of their communities instead of havens from them. It will be Mr. Goodwin's job to shepherd that bond. It's a model that has found success in communities such as Cincinnati and Syracuse, N.Y., both school systems profiled in the past year by The Blade.
Just hired in April, Mr. Goodwin doesn't yet know how the hub will take shape. But he's spent much of the year in Robinson, working in an in-school suspension program that mentored students. He's felt a change.
"The kids feel better about the school than they did on the first day," Mr. Goodwin said.
For the moment, Mr. Bronaugh reflected on the past as he wrote personal thank-you letters on pink slips — an intended joke — to each staff member of Robinson. But most of the time he looked toward next year.
The newly constituted Robinson was staffed just days before school started. Schedules were assembled quickly. Training meant for long summer months was crammed in during the year. Preparation for a year of seismic shifts simply didn't happen.
"It was like we were building a plane in the sky," Mr. Bronaugh said.
Already there are some positive indicators for next year. Staff members tend to churn in and out of schools such as Robinson. Sometimes, teachers leave for assignments perceived to be easier. Staff members at high-poverty schools also tend to be younger and less experienced and are the first let go during layoffs.
"I was laid off all the time," Ms. Bacon said of her early TPS years.
That makes building a culture change especially difficult. But Robinson will see remarkable staffing stability next year, partly from rules that coincide with its federal grant and partly because enrollment is predicted to be stable. Although it's too early in the year for enrollment projections to be anywhere close to accurate, the school expects to come close to this year's size of between 285 and 325 students.
The school projects it will lose a full-time eighth-grade teacher next year because of enrollment but will add a first and second-grade class, along with two special-education teachers. Commitments by teachers to work at Robinson for at least three years, which were part of the grant terms, mean Robinson's staff will be almost identical next year to the one that walked the halls last week. In many high-poverty schools, staff turnover reaches 25 percent or more.
Robinson's stability means training can be tailored to fix faults, not to bring new staff up to speed. Connections between staff and parents can grow, as, officials hope, will Robinson pride.
"That community feeling begins to take place," Mr. Bronaugh said.
The year was a benchmark year for Robinson; the school is essentially new, since it added six grades and had largely new staff. Test scores won't come in for months. But there's a feeling in the building of expectation, not dread.
Ms. Hickman-Richburg demanded enthusiasm.
Students, finished with lunch and just hours from summer, half-heartedly responded to her microphone-amplified prompts:
"Give me two claps for your teachers" led to chiding that the effort was weak.
"Raise your hand if you learned something new this year" resulted in hands up, but few solid examples.
But in between Robinson school spirit calls and timeouts imposed on unruly students, Ms. Hickman-Richburg wouldn't accept the vanilla answers and kept asking for more until a young girl walked up to the microphone.
"You learn knowledge," the girl said.
"And knowledge is what?" the assistant principal asked the cafeteria.
"Knowledge is power!" students said back.
And summer was on.
Contact Nolan Rosenkrans at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6086.