Keith C. Burris
Romules Durant is the other candidate in the mayor’s race.
He has a one-year appointment as superintendent of Toledo schools and is vying for the permanent superintendency. The two candidates for mayor must endure long hours and close scrutiny for 35 more days. Mr. Durant will be on the high wire for another year.
Moreover, whereas a mayor gets to take credit for anything good that happens in a city, the superintendent gets the blame for everything that goes wrong in Toledo Public Schools.
I don’t know anyone, including Mr. Durant, who thinks TPS is doing as well as it should be. There are many reasons for that, most of them complicated. But both candidates for mayor of Toledo say the schools must improve if the city is to be able to sell itself in the global market.
Mr. Durant’s first job is to sell a school levy, a renewal. That should be a slam-dunk. But given the public’s level of pessimism, it isn’t. The last levy re-quest failed. School board members say Mr. Durant has voters smiling instead of grimacing.
An East Toledo product, he played football at Waite High and went to the University of Toledo, where he also played ball. He became a teacher, got a doctorate in education, and became an administrator. He’s a local hero who made good. That’s an asset, not a liability.
Some call Mr. Durant “Dr. Data” because he loves facts, figures, and all manner of empirical evaluation. He believes in accountability and in adapting when the data shows what we are doing is not working.
Much of what we are doing in public schools is not working. Some would argue, convincingly, this is because of a flood of educational fads, testing, and continually changing goals and models. Mr. Durant argues that the burden of schools is the burden of the broken family. He says schools can fill this gap with the right approaches, one of which is his Young Men and Women of Excellence program. Kids without fathers, he told me, need empowering peer groups that teach life skills.
They also must be shown hard work and heart. Mr. Durant does that personally. His workday is typically 12 to 15 hours. He’s often returning phone calls at midnight. A friend recently asked for a luncheon meeting with him and was told the superintendent doesn’t lunch. Mr. Durant told me he keeps food in his car. He said this after a levy strategy meeting en route to a youth group meeting. We were walking to our cars. It was dusk. He was just gearing up.
The first time I saw him in action was in a formal setting. He was clearly nervous and lapsed into educationese. But one on one, he’s impressive. And real.
Most superintendents like to spend time with decision-makers. Mr. Durant does that, but he most loves to be with students. They know it. They react to him as a guru, a father, and yeah, a rock star. The next Board of Education, whatever it’s composition, is vitally important to this city. It will need to remember you can’t reach the Promised Land in a year.
Keith Burris is a columnist for The Blade.
Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6266.