If enthusiasm, a firm and principled plan, and the momentum of a lifetime of disciplined struggling to reach the top is the recipe for success, then Toledo Public School is ready to face the future with Romules Durant, the new TPS superintendent. Dr. Durant, became the 30th superintendent on August 30, and plans on achieving success in transforming the district into a top tier educational system.
The 37 year old Durant, is impressive in person both in terms of his physical fitness and readiness, and in his drive and determination in setting and achieving a goal. The fact that his resume includes entries as a football star both in High School ( at Waite where he was named player of the year) and as captain of the UT Rockets, is not surprising given his tendency to act as a field general in determining and measuring progress on a myriad of levels. Dr. Durant has served as a classroom teacher, assistant principal and assistant superintendent before taking on his new role leading TPS.
Toledo Parent took the opportunity to sit down with Dr. Durant and capture his thoughts on the future of the District, his vision for community involvement and hopes for the future of TPS.
We understand you are a product of the Toledo Public Schools Waite High School?
"I had a unique experience because I started off in the parochial setting at Holy Rosary and then my father wanted to have a broader perspective in giving me public education. I thank him to this day-every day. It has diversified my perspective and gave me balance in life that has allowed me to be a leader from all levels."
Is your father an educator as well?
"No, far from an educator. My father was a former gang member from New York. He came here for a life change but found out that just because you move from the street life in New York, his experiences didn't change just because he came here. Once he got here he was shot and fought in the street. Walking off the podium after a motivational speech, my father congratulated me calling me 'Dr. Durant'. I told him I haven't even scratched the surface of what he had accomplished. He has earned his ''doctorate" by raising all three of us kids. He is a man who dropped out of school, experienced gun violence and gang membership. I have my doctorate, my brother has not only a degree in journalism but six licenses in foreign investments and my sister is in nursing. He (my father) earned his doctorate in life."
How will you address the issue of lack of parent involvement ? Have you seen improvements by eliminating the middle schools?
"That was the whole concept of K-8. Continuity of education provides students with a comfort zone. Anytime you have a transition, kids find themselves trying to reinvent themselves, especially as teens. Students are able to mature two more years and then go into high school. It also increased participation in the parent/teacher conferences just from that change. The seventh and eight grade parent who had a relationship with the school were much more comfortable coming up to the school compared to transitioning into a new environment, new administration, and new teachers. Some people take time to develop relationships and trust."
How do you plan on getting the community involved in TPS?
"I have established internships or modeling experiences that demonstrate for students the practical application of practices that they are learning in the classroom. We are setting up internships in the business community that allow them to set themselves up for potential jobs. We have a Decca program. There is no reason why there are not business sectors set up within that to help develop business models for kids. In return, those kids potentially become employees in the program' supporting business' own work force. I am also reaching out to the faith based community. There is a church on every corner. If a church adopted a school, they would have a presence in that community and eventually the students that come through our doors may come through theirs."
What extracurricular activities do you find most rewarding?
"I run a mentorship group which recognizes a deleted group of our students as young men of excellence and young women of excellence. We have recognized over 1000 students between the two. groups. We just added 15 more of our schools to the program, so now we'll have about 2000 students. I am hoping to have close to 3000 by the end of next spring. I tell them that it is up to us to take back our community and ourselves by setting and meeting expectations."
Did you begin that program while you were the assistant superintendent?
"Yes. The group is so important because it is not the adult supervisor that is the focus but rather the peer to peer relation and support system. We are in a digital paradox. Meaning kids have all the means of communication but can't communicate. so they find themselves in these digital communications that can result in unethical or negative behavior once they meet up personally-there are disconnects. We develop team building. Not everyone is going to be athletic, not everyone is going to be a musician. There needs to be a support system that students can identify with and be accepted."
What is a concern that you feel needs to be addressed in the immediate future?
"I have noticed that woman just come out of the woodwork to support and help (with school-based or sponsored programs). With guys, it is like pulling teeth. You get a lot of lip service. When you look at it through a broader lens, you begin to wonder what it is that gets in the way of commitment by adult males in taking responsibility to mold our young men to become productive members in our society? I was one who needed an alpha male in the household. Kids need to understand self-discipline, control and being responsible for your own disposition."