When the new school year begins in the South-Western City School District, a number of continuing and new initiatives at all grade levels will be underway to meet the evolving focus of education.
School isn’t just about teaching students basic knowledge in subjects, Superintendent Bill Wise said.
“What we’re also about is preparing our students for college or career, for being successful after they leave our schools,” Wise said.
Students need to develop the skills of communication, collaboration, creativity and critical thinking to thrive in a rapidly changing world, he said.
The new school year will open for all South-Western students in grades 4-12 on Wednesday, Aug. 21.
Grades K-3 will have a staggered start. The first day for students with a last name beginning with the letters A-G only will be Wednesday, Aug. 21; H-O only will be Thursday, Aug. 22; and P-Z only will be Aug. 23.
Classes will be held for all students Aug. 26.
This year the district has added a third social worker to assist students, Wise said.
South-Western’s partnership with Communities in Schools will be expanded to 14 buildings this year, an increase of two, he said.
The schools to be involved are still to be determined, Wise said.
The social workers and Communities in School program have been beneficial for students, he said.
“They work with our students so help them overcome the (non-academic) barriers that may impact their performance in school,” Wise said.
For the second consecutive summer, South-Western hosted the Teachers College professional development program offered by Columbia University.
Seventy-five more K-8 teachers from the district attended the local program. In all, 150 South-Western teachers have participated in the seminars, which focus on developing strategies to encourage students to be more engaged in honing their literacy and language arts skills, Wise said.
“Teachers College is designed under a ‘train the trainer’ model,” he said. “The teachers who go through the program are able to share what they’ve learned with their colleagues.”
At the elementary school level, South-Western is implementing iReady, a computer software program that offers teachers assessment and diagnostic tools with increased rigor in writing and reading.
“It’s a much more rigorous diagnostic form than we’ve had with the more generic state form,” Wise said.
Although it’s likely that using iReady will lower the district’s K-3 literacy grade on next year’s state report card, in the long run, the system will benefit teachers and students, he said.
Teachers will be able to get faster and more detailed data regarding a student’s performance, with an ability to zero in on a student’s needs and recommend remediation more individually, Wise said.
The elementary math program has been revised to have students working more with word problems to increase the real-world applications of their lessons, he said.
Middle school students will be using new Apple technology to work on coding and app development projects, Wise said. Six South-Western middle school teachers participated this summer in a training program for the new equipment hosted by Ohio State University and Apple, he said.
The weeklong Teaching Coding Academy provided intensive training and had teachers create their own app to address their choice among three challenges facing the community, Wise said.
They will be able to use their hands-on experience to teach students how to use the technology to create a mobile app, he said.
Career-tech courses are emphasized at the district’s middle schools, Wise said.
About 4,000 middle school students will take CTE courses relating to computers, IT, health care, pre-engineering and mobile apps, he said.
The district’s partnership with the I Know I Can program has been expanded to all four South-Western high schools, Wise said.
I Know I Can is a college-access program that provides success coaches to work with freshmen and sophomores and college-advising managers who work with juniors and seniors.
“The focus is on total college preparedness all along the way,” Wise said.
South-Western’s program was expanded over the summer to include the Summer Melt program, he said.
“It involved contacting all students who had been accepted into college to make sure they had everything they needed to start college in the fall,” Wise said. “Whether they are going to a two-year technical school or a four-year college, the Summer Melt was about making the transition to their next level of education as seamless as possible.”
The district’s four-year graduation rate increased to 87.9% last year, the highest ever, he said.
The class of 2019 earned more than $25 million in scholarship offers and the district’s high school students took more than 3,000 college courses to earn more than 8,500 college credits while still working toward meeting their high school graduation requirements, Wise said.
The new biennial state budget authorized $550 million in additional funds to support student wellness and success in schools, Treasurer Hugh Garside said.
South-Western will see increases of 4.5% and 1.9% in year one and two, respectively, he said.
Funding will be distributed to schools on a per-pupil basis determined by the percentage of students under age 18 living in a household with income below 185% of the Federal Poverty Level.
South-Western will receive approximately $4.5 million additional in the first year of the budget and about $3.3 million in the second year, based on his best calculations, Garside said.
In general, the district’s financial picture remains strong with no operating levy needed over the next few years, he said.
South-Western’s AA bond ratings from the top rating agencies will put it in a strong position when it goes to sell bonds for its upcoming Ohio Facilities Construction Commission project, Garside said.
Last November, voters approved a 38-year, $93.4 million bond issue to pay the district’s share of the second phase of the OFCC project.
The second phase will include construction of new buildings at Brookpark, Finland, Norton and Pleasant View middle schools and renovations at Jackson Middle School and East Franklin Elementary School.
The total cost of the project will be about $193 million with the OFCC providing $60 million, or about half of the project’s core cost. OFCC funds will not be used for asphalt and roofing repairs the district will be completing at various school sites.
South-Western reopened East Franklin last school year to address enrollment increases.
In January 2019, construction of a new annex at Bolton Crossing Elementary School was completed and two of the classrooms were used for preschool classes during the second semester, Wise said.
All 12 rooms in the annex will be in use this school year, he said.
South-Western officials expect to begin the design process for the OFCC project by the end of October or early November, Wise said.
Construction on the new school buildings is expected to begin in the summer of 2020, he said.
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