Thursday, May 24, 2018
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Ex-TPS official gives U.S. union close-up look at tech academy


Sophomore Jessica Magrum talks to Fran Lawrence, executive vice president of the American Federation of Teachers. Leaders of the AFT, the Ohio Federation of Teachers, and a representative of U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown toured the west end Toledo Technology Academy on Monday.

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Fran Lawrence needs no introduction to Toledo Public Schools. Yet there she was Monday, touring the Toledo Technology Academy to learn about one of the district’s success stories.

Of course, she wasn’t there to learn about the program herself. Ms. Lawrence spent more than 40 years in TPS, 14 of them as president of the Toledo Federation of Teachers. Instead, Ms. Lawrence returned to the school to spread the word about the academy to a national audience.

Soon after she retired from TPS, Ms. Lawrence became executive vice president of the American Federation of Teachers, the second-largest national teachers’ union with about 1.5 million members. She brought personnel to the technology program housed at the former DeVilbiss High School, along with representatives from its Ohio affiliate and Sen. Sherrod Brown’s office, to use the school as an example of a public school doing something different and getting results.

Ms. Lawrence said she often tells AFT staff about the magnet high school. “I wanted to show them an exemplary program,” she said.

The academy and TPS’ other magnet high school, the Toledo Early College High School, score in the top academic tier of Ohio schools. Both have unique setups beyond just their curricula that distinguish them from other district schools.

The technology academy, for instance, hires staff through an interview process instead of relying simply on employee seniority, director Gary Thompson said. Its governing board includes building and district administrators and union leaders, along with representatives from businesses affiliated with the school.

The academy focuses on technological and engineering skills, with project-based learning. Each student must complete a capstone course, and all seniors complete internships. Affiliated businesses provide those internships, along with funding and governance input.

Ms. Lawrence and others attended an academy governing board meeting Monday, where the disparate group of school stakeholders debated student transportation options, enrollment targets, and staffing plans.

Ms. Lawrence said that unique governing structure was something she wanted to share on a national level. Cameras were on hand to record the visit.

Ms. Lawrence also visited another district program Monday of which she has intimate knowledge, the Intern Board of Review, TPS’ teacher peer-review system. In the system, new teachers are given an experienced teacher who acts as a mentor and evaluator, and who recommends either renewal or nonrenewal of the intern to a board that includes teachers and administrators.

The program was developed in 1981 by then-local union president Dal Lawrence, Ms. Lawrence’s husband.

Contact Nolan Rosenkrans at:

or 419-724-6086, or on

Twitter @NolanRosenkrans.

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