November 26, 2014

Intermittent clouds

Elyria High students protest layoff of popular administrator


ELYRIA — He’s a tall, imposing figure with a calm nature and a knack for reaching students on their level.

He’s the kind of man to stay after school for hours to meet with working parents at a time that is more convenient for them.

As Elyria High School Assistant Principal Sam Dickerson puts it, “Before you can expect these kids to function academically, you have to get their social and emotionally stability together.”

When Dickerson got to Elyria three years ago, he brought with him tons of experience honed in the Cleveland school district.

He saw a hole in the Elyria district’s offerings to students and filled it with a program aimed at getting high school students exposed to small independent colleges where they could get scholarship dollars, and he made sure Elyria students outnumbered students from other schools participating in the Cleveland Clinic’s Dr. Charles Drew Saturday Academy.

He formed a tight bond with students. So when word got around Wednesday that Dickerson’s contract with Elyria Schools would not be renewed, students protested.

Shortly before 10 a.m., students reacted by walking out of classes and gathering in the dining hall to stage an impromptu sit-in protest. Hundreds participated.

“I feel like he helps us so much, and they just let him go,” said Talena Thomas, a junior at the school. “I feel like he’s the only one who helps us minorities and other kids. He keeps us out of trouble and tries to get us in scholarship programs.”

Later in the evening, in an unconventional move, the board voted to treat his layoff similar to teachers, with the understanding he will be offered the first assistant principal position that opens up at the high school or in a middle school in the next two years.

“I’m not a victim,” Dickerson said shortly after the school day ended Wednesday. “This is just a result of the levy not passing.”

Now he’s the face of what $3 million in cuts looks like in a district grappling with the need to stay fiscally solvent. School districts are largely personnel-heavy operations, so when money needs to be cut, employees are the first on the chopping block.

Rough cuts

Dickerson is not alone.

Earlier this year, Superintendent Paul Rigda announced sweeping cuts to the district’s budget. Absent a school levy to bring in more money — the last levy the district put on the ballot was in 2012, and it failed — extensive reductions are the only way to prevent a deficit.

The district-wide cuts include the elimination of 59 positions — among them teachers, special education instructors and classroom aides.

“The decision was in no way due to job performance,” Elyria High Principal Tom Jama said. “I gave Mr. Dickerson a good evaluation this year and recommended he receive a two-year contract.”

From the students at the protest, it was clear he connected with the students.

“He was the only principal at our school who cared and tried to connect with every student that he comes into contact with,” said senior Erinn Roseboro. “He was the only one to support you when you needed someone to talk to. He wasn’t even my principal, but we went to him before going to anyone else.”

Cousin Alexis Roseboro, also a senior, said Dickerson organized a college tour over spring break for several students.

“If you need help with anything, he’s going to make it happen for you,” she said. “He helped me with my college stuff and my sports. He’s just that type of person. He’s going to help you. If I need help when I’m in college, I’m going to call Mr. Dickerson, and I know he will be there.”

Jama said the protest lasted for little more than an hour. He then spoke with students and asked them to move their demonstration to the gymnasium so lunch could be served in the dining hall. He characterized the kids as respectful and civil.

However, one unidentified student pulled the fire alarm as the students were moving between the dining hall and gymnasium. The building was cleared. The Elyria Fire Department was called, and after a check of the building, Jama said, students were allowed back in the school.

“They went to the gym and waited there until Mr. Dickerson came to speak with them,” Jama said. “He was very upfront with the kids and professional. The kids were demonstrating their right to protest a decision they felt was not in the best decision to make.”

Dickerson was in Garfield Heights attending a meeting of principals and athletic directors when he got the message to return to the school to quiet the impassioned students.

“They kept telling us it’s not their fault, but in a sense it is, because the students should have a say-so or a thought on who we feel should stay,” Erinn Roseboro said.

Dickerson said he prayed on the drive back. When he walked into the school, in a door nearest to the gymnasium, the students began shouting and chanting his name, he said.

“I told them, ‘This right here means more to me than any paycheck I could ever get from Elyria Schools, but I want you to go back to class in peace. I have never caused a disruption in this school and if you are doing this for me, you won’t, either.’ ”

Dickerson does not dispute the fact he has a great rapport with students. It’s his leadership style, he said.

“I love the kids and pour so much into them and their families,” he said.

Penny Opdyke, the parent of two kids at the high school, said Dickerson, who is black, is largely seen as a father figure to many of the minority students in school.

“In that school, they don’t expect the minority kids to succeed like the white kids, and Mr. Dickerson is not like that. Mr. Dickerson is trying to make a change in that school,” she said. “He’s there for those kids who think there is no one there for them. He lets them know he cares about their education.”

Now that word is out that Dickerson might not return, he said he will not be dismayed. His contract is not up until July 31, and he plans to work until then. And maybe, if another administrator resigns or retires, a position will open up next school year.

“This is the finest staff and diverse group of kids I have ever worked with in my life,” he said. “This job truly has been a blessing for me. So, in reference to my future plans, I plan to be a Pioneer.”

Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or

  • this mom

    ” has set himself apart as a figure minority students can trust”. why can’t they trust mentor figures who aren’t the same skin color too? (cause their job isn’t on the line at the moment? it will be someday)keeping his job cause he’s a “minority” isn’t the right reason. he SHOULD keep his job for his contribution to our youth (as per popular outcry, this is a democracy afterall, power to the people), no matter the color (i’m sure he doesn’t claim to be biased as to what color students he counsels, does he?) why is the news so concentrated on making it a “color thing” (maybe cause they try to tell us how to think we are). we need to get passed that for the children’s sake in order to teach them true equality

    • Kenna Craighead

      Since you dont understand. Im Kenna craighead, a elyria high student it has NOTHING to do with race its the simple fact that HE IS THE ONLY STAFF AT ELYRIA HIGH THAT REALLY REALLY CARES ABOUT US. No staff tries or even wants to understand or help us. I was doing so bad in school my Dad (Dickerson) wasn’t even my principal (i had ms. Jones) but he was the ONLY one who helped me !!!!! Got me getting good grades , in scholarship programs & hes a mentor when i need to talk the only person i talk to & pray with but YOU PEOPLE (people that dont see the bigger light, the whole picture) its about how great & awesome man he is. Elyria high would NEVEEEER be the same without Mr. Dickerson !♥

      • Pablo Jones

        Who made you get bad grades before? Are the teachers teaching you differently now, or are you just paying attention more and studying more. So what did he do that no other person has done?

      • R

        “a elyria high” lololol

      • R

        also “kenna” hemay have got your grades higher but it doesn’t appear you’re any more intelligent after all’s asid and done. Study more, rely on authority less.

        • Joe Smith

          “hemay” ? “asid” ? You shouldn’t cut on someones IQ when you make dumb mistakes yourself. LOL! Just teasing you

  • Charlie Murphy

    Like the kids matter, it is all about money.

    • Openminded Parent

      Charlie, that’s were you’re wrong. Mr. Dickerson is actually ONE of the few that DOES care about the Students. Regardless if they are White, Black, Green, Purple, Blue or Polka Dot. I have a Child at EHS and Mr. Dickerson is NOT even his Principal, but you wouldn’t know it. I receive Phone Calls from Mr. Dickerson at least twice a week concerning my Son. Now before you or anyone else begin to ASSUME that I receive these calls because my Child is acting up or anything of the sort, let me stop you right there.
      My Child is in his first year of High School, doesn’t bother anyone, minds his business, and does what he is suppose to do. In other words, he HAS Home training, and he knows that School is a place to get an Education, not to be the Class Clown, etc. (And I DONT have a problem leaving my Job to go to any one of my Kids Schools if they decide that they want to act up, that’s the difference). I didn’t know Mr. Dickerson from Adam before this School year, but have come to have GREAT RESPECT and APPRECIATION for him for the extra mile that he has gone to make my Son feels comfortable in a new setting.
      My Son took to Mr. Dickerson about a Month after School started because he was having a problem with a few Students (bigger in size and upper Classmen) bothering him. He tried going to his Principal and Teachers about the issue but things just continued, but when he approached Mr. Dickerson, the situation was handled. Not only did Mr. Dickerson diffuse and handle the problem, but he followed up with a Phone call to me…on my Job.
      How many of them would take the time to do that? I could go on and on, but I think you get the point, just because one or two may be there “just for a Check”, doesn’t mean that they all are.

      • Charlie Murphy

        Maybe you could reach out to him to see if he could teach you PUNCTUATION.

  • infinitefancies

    Mr. Dickerson must be commended for having the respect of so many students at EHS. And the students must be respected for their respectful support of Mr. Dickerson whom they so obviously love and appreciate. I hope the Mayor and others find the funds available to extend Mr. Dickerson’s contract–for many reasons.