In an exclusive interview with the Journal-News prior to the meeting, Styles said the decision was not an easy one and emotionally difficult given the deep ties he has developed in his more than half-decade of leading the 6,300-student school system.
“It’s been a joy to work with and alongside the (school) board and serving the kids and it has been an honor the last five and half years,” said Styles.
Styles, who is a Greater Cincinnati native and previously worked four years as Lakota Schools’ executive director of curriculum before landing the Middletown job, will join a San Diego-based education company as a partner.
The Learner-Centered Collaborative has a network of school system clients across the nation. Styles said his new partner role will see him consulting and working with multiple client districts.
The new job, he said, will magnify his impact on improving student learning in more districts across the nation.
Styles said his last day on the job with Middletown Schools will be Feb. 28.
“I really love working for kids and I have an opportunity to serve more kids. This is an opportunity of a lifetime to be part of an organization that is working to provide learning models for kids across this country to allow them to thrive and that is my passion,” said Styles.
The superintendent, who is the first, non-interim African-American leader in the district’s history, informed the board prior to Monday evening’s board meeting before making his public announcement.
The former math teacher, who started in 2002, and later a Mt. Healthy school principal was one of the youngest in southwest Ohio to take over a district when hired by Middletown’s board.
His high energy style was immediately apparent as he coined a new motto for struggling district of “Middie Rising” while tackling long-standing problems in the school system.
In 2017 the district, which has a low-income family enrollment that make it 100% eligible for free and reduced school meals, had sought a dynamic leader to upend Middletown Schools status quo.
Middletown School Board President Chris Urso said Styles’ delivered and more with many sweeping educational reforms that have improved aspects of the district since 2017.
“The board of education is deeply appreciative of the transformational work Marlon guided during his tenure as Middletown Schools superintendent. In five years the district has evolved. What our students learn, how they are taught, and the climate of our schools has shifted dramatically under his leadership.”
In a released statement, Urso did not address whether the board will promote current Middletown Schools Assistant Superintendent Deborah Houser into an interim or permanent superintendent position or open the job to outside candidates.
In Ohio public school systems, school boards hire superintendents and district treasurers.
During Styles’ leadership he oversaw the completion of a new middle school and extensive renovation of the adjacent Middletown High School and its entire, shared campus grounds in 2018.
The $10 million expansion and renovation of Rosa Parks Elementary, which was unveiled in August 2021 also occurred under his watch.
Styles championed both locally and nationally the need, especially after the March 2020 onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and its school closing and disruptions, for closing the “digital divide” in Middletown for students whose low incomes did not allow them to work via the internet from home.
His lobbying for getting learning laptops and wireless access to all students regardless of their family income saw him testify on the issue before a U.S. Congressional committee.
The pandemic severely impacted learning progress in Middletown as it did for school systems across the country and saw too wide-spread interruptions of state testing on student proficiency in 2020 and 202.
Regardless, Styles said the district has made substantial progress in some academic areas including creating a more positive culture for its students and staffers.
Specifically, he pointed to improvements in “student growth” as measured in part by annual state testing.
In 2017, Styles said, the “student growth” measurement under the state’s “value added” report card category was listed as a minus 12.
The most recent state report card, he said, now shows Middletown Schools have achieved student growth score of plus four in the same category, where a zero score equals adequate growth.
Urso said he and other board members were long aware of Styles being an attractive candidate for other jobs.
In February 2022, Styles was named one of three job finalists to fill the superintendent’s position for Cincinnati Public Schools, which is Ohio’s third largest district.
“We have been mindful that Marlon’s talent has been noticed by many outside Middletown and the board of education has prepared for this day. We are both confident and excited about the future of Middletown Schools,” said Urso.
Styles said he is optimistic the many changes he and his administrative team installed in the city schools will continue to bring improvement.
“The district is in a great situation now … and the board of education will make the best decision for the district and this district will continue to thrive.”
When asked what some things are he will miss most, Styles said one of his favorite joys was “going into the cafeteria on lunch days when kids are having breakfast for lunch and helping kindergarteners open up their syrup packets.”
“And I’m going to miss graduation ceremonies where you are looking out into the crowd and seeing how kids (graduating seniors) have decorated their caps.”
“I’m going to miss the people of Middletown. Middie Magic is absolutely real.”
Urso said the board expects to have an update regarding the superintendent’s position at the board’s next meeting on Jan. 30.