The Toledo Board of Education chose an internal candidate Monday as the next leader of Toledo Public Schools, selecting Assistant Superintendent Romules Durant as interim replacement for departing Superintendent Jerome Pecko.
Mr. Durant, 37, an East Toledo native and graduate of Waite High School and the University of Toledo, has been with TPS since 1999, serving as a teacher, assistant principal, and principal before moving to district administration.
The board voted unanimously for Mr. Durant over the other finalist for the position, Douglas Heuer, superintendent of the Cleveland Heights-University Heights Schools district, after a second round of interviews.
Mr. Durant will replace Superintendent Jerome Pecko, whose contract expires on July 31. The board will negotiate a contract with Mr. Durant.
Board President Brenda Hill said terms haven’t been determined, but the board has previously discussed a one-year contract for an interim position.
Mr. Durant has long been seen by district insiders and observers as a likely pick for superintendent. That the board chose to forgo a lengthy search for Mr. Pecko’s replacement and instead only hire an interim superintendent made his selection all the less surprising.
Ms. Hill has said the interim position could become permanent, which would mirror how the board replaced Dan Romano as treasurer. Matt Cleland was hired as interim treasurer in September, 2011, a role that was made permanent in February, 2012.
Mr. Durant said he was proud to lead the district where he’s spent so many years, both as a student and an employee.
“[I’m] just very excited to begin to look at the vision of Toledo Public Schools, as well as begin to work with our partnerships, and continue on with the transformation plan that we had put forth two years ago,” he said.
Mr. Durant is part of a crop of young TPS administrators who rose to prominence within the district under then-Superintendent John Foley, replacing administrators and cabinet members who flocked from the district when Eugene Sanders left for Cleveland.
Mr. Pecko’s leadership style included giving his cabinet members significant responsibilities and allowing them to serve as the public face of many of the district’s initiatives.
Along with fellow Assistant Superintendent Brian Murphy and Chief Academic Officer Jim Gault, Mr. Durant was a key architect of the district’s transformation plan, which among other initiatives moved the district from elementary and junior high schools to K-8 buildings.
As assistant superintendent, he’s been in charge of the Scott, Bowsher, and Waite learning communities. He’s also served as the district’s point man for big-picture data analysis, dissecting whether new programs are tied to student growth. When TPS wanted to present evidence that a school would likely have large test score jumps or that a new approach was working, Mr. Durant was often called on to explain the data.
But Mr. Durant isn’t just a numbers guy, though he has a habit of including data jargon in everyday conversations. He’s also been deeply involved in building community partnerships, particularly in the central city.
Probably his biggest initiative — and his personal favorite — is the explosive growth of the Student African-American Brotherhood and its sister program, Young Women of Excellence. Those programs focus on building student leaders and peer mentorship.
There are hundreds of active student members in Toledo, and Mr. Durant often dons a black SAAB vest and tie.
Many of the core problems in TPS are linked to the poverty many of its students live in, and he personally focuses on strategies that are geared to mitigating how the effects of poverty drag down student performance.
Mr. Durant, who holds a doctorate in education, administration, and supervision from the University of Toledo, wrote his dissertation on the collective social factors that contribute to the achievement gap between black and white students at TPS.
Mr. Pecko said the board made a wise decision in Mr. Durant and said the unanimous vote sent a message of confidence in his abilities. He praised Mr. Durant’s knack for building relationships in the community, as well as his knowledge of education data, both integral parts of the position.
“He will do an outstanding job,” Mr. Pecko said. “He’s got all the required pieces and parts and has a very intimate knowledge of what’s been going on in the district.”
Mr. Gault, who in his current position would serve as Mr. Durant’s second-in-command, said the board made a good choice and called Mr. Durant a strong leader.
Kevin Dalton, president of the Toledo Federation of Teachers, congratulated Mr. Durant and said he was “cautiously optimistic” he would have a collaborative relationship with the new superintendent.
Mr. Pecko said he’ll finish out his contract, and in the meantime hopes to include Mr. Durant as much as possible in decision making and deliberations. The district faces several key steps in coming months, including negotiations with its three employee-bargaining units.
Mr. Pecko said it’s his goal that what happens in the district during the next several months will be as much of Mr. Durant’s mind-set as his.
Contact Nolan Rosenkrans at:
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