Crystal Ellis – Toledo Public Schools First Black Superintendent

Crystal Ellis
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Crystal Ellis, the first African-American superintendent of the Toledo Public School district died Monday, April 22, 2024. He was 91 years old.

Ellis grew up in Springfield, OH, and graduated from Springfield High School where he played on the basketball team in the 1950s. It wasn’t until his last year in high school that he considered entering college after being prompted to do so by one of his high school teachers.

“I had never thought about college mainly because no one in my family had ever attended college. She wanted me to learn in her classroom. She made life come alive,” recalled Ellis during a conversation with The Truth in 2003.

After graduation, Ellis attended Bowling Green State University where he became the first African American to play basketball for the school.

“When I got to college, I toyed with the thought of going into mechanical engineering,” recalled Ellis. “But then I thought you want to be a teacher, you want to be a coach. When I got out of BGSU, I couldn’t get a job in Springfield High School because of my color. This was the school at which I had been vice president of my senior class and represented my school both at Buckeye Boys and at the national American Legion baseball tournament in Louisville.

That’s when he was told the YMCA in Toledo had an opening and was invited to come in for an interview. “Toledo became a part of me and I became a part of Toledo,” said Ellis.

“The Indiana Avenue YMCA was then called the Colored YMCA because the YMCA was segregated. That was where the Judge Doneghys, the Judge Penns, the Judge Franklins, the Dr. Colemans, all went. The community brought professional people together with hard working, God-fearing people. Andthat sense of community is something that has disappeared in terms of integration. We’ve lost part of our history and culture.”

Ellis spent 13 years at the YMCA. He served as physical director and swim instructor, coach of everything and eventually ran the entire operation as the head of the Y.

When he joined the Toledo Public Schools system, Ellis’ first assignment was at Leverette as a teacher. He became assistant principal at former DeVilbiss High School and principal at the former Hamilton Elementary, Leverette Junior High, and Rogers High schools. He became deputy superintendent for five years and then superintendent for six years – from 1991 to 1996 – before retiring. He would later come out of retirement for a year to become a high school principal at Libbey.

“He was consistent about seeing the best in others and pulling out of others what they may not even have known what they possessed on the inside of themselves,” said TPS Board of Education President Randall Parker.

“We’re sad, but at the same time, we’re also at peace in knowing that he understood how much we appreciated him and we allowed that to be felt during his final years,” said TPS Superintendent Romules Durant, EdD.