‘Rookie year’ for Middletown Schools superintendent shows wins, losses

For the former high school baseball coach who is now Middletown’s school leader, school years are like sports seasons and his rookie stint as superintendent wasn’t great but overall had more wins than losses.

That’s solid progress when talking about Middletown Schools, which has a troubled past of only sporadic academic success in recent years.

But as the school year comes to a close this month, first-year Superintendent Marlon Styles Jr. looks back on a district-wide revitalization he started in August and credits school staffers with pushing it forward.

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The 39-year-old Styles launched the “Middie Modernization Movement” within days of taking his first superintendent’s job as head of the Butler County city school system. The new mantra has proven popular beyond school campuses, having energized community and business sector support for the district.

But turning around one of Southwest Ohio’s lowest performing school districts — and its 6,300 students — doesn’t happen in a single school season, said Styles.

“We had a good rookie season but definitely not rookie of the year,” said Styles, a former top official with Lakota Local Schools who used to coach baseball for Northwest High School in Hamilton County.

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“But the rookie season we’ve had has been successful because of the amount of support we have received as a district both internally — from all our stakeholders — and our school and business community,” said Styles. “The city has been phenomenal in how they have supported everything we have done this year for our school kids.”

Those include sweeping and historic reforms in how Middletown approaches teaching and learning. More than a slogan, the modernization of the district under Styles’ leadership is fueled by increased attention to student data and academic performance.

The district is also undergoing a historical, $96 million physical transformation for students in grades 7-12 as construction wraps up on a new 135,000-square-foot middle school — adjacent to a renovated Middletown High School.

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When classes open Sept. 4 for all schools, the Middletown Middle School will feature one of the most innovative learning spaces in the region, with grade-specific building wings and common learning areas between classrooms.

The annual Ohio Department of Education report cards on public school districts is scheduled to be released in early fall. Regardless of how Middletown Schools performed during the current school year — in recent years the district has been among the lowest scorers in the region — a foundation immeasurable by standardized student testing has been laid, said Styles.

There has been a “contagious belief across the organization that we can do it … and we can do it together.”

The Middie Modernization Movement, said Styles, “has provided us clarity, it has provided us direction, it’s motivated us and it has kept us focused on our priorities,” which includes having each high school graduate well-versed in academic training for college or trade school or immediate, work-place employment.

Middletown Board of Education President Chris Urso describes Styles at the end of his initial school year as “everything as advertised.”

“He is exciting and dynamic, and as a district we are in a good place. He has a good balance and he does well looking at data … but at the same time having the relationship and people building skills that people like to connect to,” said Urso.

“We have noticed that with our staff, people are getting inspired,” he said. “It’s been dramatic.”

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