Board Updated on Numerous Academic, Operational Initiatives during End-of-Year Retreat; Strategic Planning Process Advancing to Next Phase

Back to School News      Print News Article

Current Westerville City School District (WCSD) Board of Education members and future members winning seats in last November’s election met the morning of December 16, 2013, for the Board’s annual end-of-year retreat.  Board members first participated in a professional development session dedicated to Board governance and leadership, which was followed by Leadership Team updates on several high-priority initiatives of the district.

Superintendent John Kellogg, Ed.D., updated retreat participants and visitors on the first phase of the Strategic Planning process, which involved approximately 180 internal and external stakeholders.  This group of stakeholders represented all facets of the community and has been working since November 4, 2013, to develop a framework for a new five-year plan.  The plan will impact academic and operational initiatives of the district and help guide its future work on creating 21st century students.

Community members who have been serving as group facilitators throughout the development process presented a summary of key themes and preliminary community feedback results for their assigned domain from the plan.  Overall, feedback from the community has been positive and closely paralleled that of the stakeholder group working to create the draft framework.  “I don’t consider this to be a completed process,” Kellogg told the Board.  “We still need to take the next steps, which include the design of strategies and work plans for each dimension, as well as broad-stroke metrics that we can use to measure our progress.”

The initial project time line called for the community feedback process to be completed by the time of the Board retreat, but Kellogg decided to continue gathering feedback for an additional week due to the type of information that has been collected to date.

“I don’t expect numbers to change, but what has been very rich in content are the comments,” Kellogg explained.  “We can use that information as we move forward to develop our long-range goals and work plans.  The challenge is going from words to action.”

Based upon facilitator reports and feedback from the community, the Board authorized Kellogg to move to this next phase of the plan’s development. 

District officials have been working since October 2013 with Glenn Meeks, a nationally-renowned expert in educational technology systems, to assess WCSD’s current instructional technology resources and develop a 21st Century Learning and Teaching Roadmap for the district.

Curriculum & Instruction Director Jennifer Knapp, Elementary Technology Specialist Jennifer Fry, and Westerville South High School Assistant Principal Michael Hinze presented Board members with an update on the project’s status.  They said an initial outcome of the work to date is the development of a rubric that can help teachers evaluate the extent to which they are creating an ideal instructional atmosphere for their students.

The rubric uses the acronym “LEARN,” with each letter representing specific conditions needed to create an ideal learning environment:  “L” represents Learner-centered, “E” stands for Engagement, “A” stands for Alignment of Resources, “R” represents Rigor and Relevance, and “N” stands for Nurturing and Caring Environment. 

Presenters told Board members that much work remains to be done on the project, including the creation of a vision for Learning & Teaching in the district, development of policies and procedures, design of professional development programs, and identification of the role that technology will play in the overall instructional process.  District officials said they expect to present a final Learning and Teaching Roadmap for the Board’s consideration in late January.  Kellogg noted that all of this work must be done within the parameters of the current five-year financial forecast.

Executive Director of Elementary Academic Affairs David Baker, Executive Director of Secondary Academic Affairs Scott Reeves, and Curriculum & Instruction Director Jennifer Knapp, updated Board members on the district’s ongoing transition to new state learning standards and preparation for changes to state testing scheduled to begin next school year.  During the 2014-15 school year the district will implement new state learning standards in the following courses:  English for eighth grade; English 2 for high school; Mathematics for grades 6 and 7; Accelerated Math for grade 7; Algebra 2, Honors Algebra and Financial Algebra for high school; Science for grades 5 and 8; Biology 1 and Biology 2 for high school; Social Studies for grade 7; and Modern World History for high school.  This essentially will complete the district’s transition to the new state standards, which will be the basis for the new assessments coming next school year.

The new assessments include the following:  Reading and Mathematics for grades 3 through 11, Science in grades 3 and 8, Physical Science and Biology for high school, Social Studies in grades 4 and 6, and American History and American Government for high school.

State assessments are changing due in part to Ohio’s participation in the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC).  PARCC is a consortium of 18 states, the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands that has developed a common set of K-12 assessments in English and math. The tests are based upon what the consortium believes students will need to know to be ready for college or a career after high school.

These new assessments, which at lower grades will replace Ohio Achievement Assessments, will be given online and in two phases.  The first phase involves performance-based assessments that students will take when 75 percent of the coursework is complete, and the second phase will be an end-of-year assessment at the end of the course.

District officials shared that the new assessment schedule will be challenging to implement and will result in students spending more time on state tests than ever before.  In some instances, students will spend four times as much time on state tests than they currently do.  High school students will take as many as 13 tests in the final nine weeks of the school year.  However, as the state transitions from the Ohio Graduation Test (OGT) to the Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test (PSAT), next year’s 10th graders will be required to take the PSAT in the fall, as well as five OGT exams and 11 PARCC assessments in the spring.

Westerville North High School Principal Kurt Yancey shared that at the high school level, given current schedules and resources to accommodate online testing, students could spend as much as five of the final nine weeks of the school year taking state-mandated tests, leaving only four weeks of actual instruction.

Baker assured the Board that the district is not taking a “wait and see” attitude, and that officials are working diligently to minimize the impact of these changes on Westerville schools.  State-mandated changes will have a wide-reaching impact on many aspects of district operations, including teacher evaluations, principal evaluations and state report card results.  Board members expressed concern about the significant academic and logistical consequences that these changes will have. Board members recommended the launch of an advocacy plan that would make legislators aware of the anticipated impact on the district.

Ohio legislators already are considering the delay of certain changes to graduation requirements. According to an announcement from the Ohio School Boards Association, the Ohio House Education Committee recently adopted 27 amendments to House Bill (HB) 193, which is the legislation that authorizes the changes described earlier.  The bill was then passed by the committee in a bipartisan manner with only one “no” vote. Some of the primary changes include:

  • Delaying online assessments until the 2015-16 school year;
  • Delaying the phase-out of the OGT so students entering ninth grade after July 1, 2015, will be subject to the new graduation requirements; and
  • Establishing a “safe harbor” provision regarding sanctions for schools and districts for the 2014-15 school year.

HB 193 will go to the full House for a vote, but with both the House and Senate recessed for the holidays, a vote on the entire bill in the House will not occur until legislators return next year.

A revised enrollment forecast and two vacant school buildings leave the Board of Education with flexibility regarding how it utilizes existing space for its academic programming, reported Executive Director of Facilities and Operations Jeff LeRose.

According to the newly-revised enrollment forecast, elementary enrollment peaked in the 2011-12 school year, middle school enrollment peaked in the 2012-13 school year, and high school enrollment is projected to peak during the 2017-18 school year.  Districtwide, enrollment peaked in the 2011-12 school year with 15,020 students. Enrollment is projected to slightly increase over the next three years but then begin a downward trend to 14,236 students during the 2023-24 school year.

Due to budget cuts, program reductions and enrollment considerations at individual schools, the Board last year gave serious consideration to modifying elementary attendance boundaries for the start of the 2013-14 school year.  However, given several factors such as forthcoming revised enrollment data and a transition to new leadership, the Board decided to wait to revisit the matter this year.

District officials during Monday’s retreat told Board members that they believe there are three viable options to consider:

  1. The first option would be to proceed with the original plan as a result of budget reductions.  Under this scenario, Central College and Longfellow schools would remain unused, Emerson and Hanby schools would be converted to traditional elementary schools, and elementary attendance boundaries would be revised.  However, based upon enrollment patterns and other logistical considerations, district leaders do not recommend this option.
  2. The second option would be to continue operating “as is,” which would result in Central College and Longfellow schools remaining off-line, Emerson and Hanby remaining schools of choice, and elementary attendance boundaries remaining the same.  District leaders also did not recommend this option because it limits the space that would be available for other programs that may support goals that are consistent with the Strategic Plan.
  3. The third option that district leaders recommended for further exploration would entail keeping elementary attendance boundaries as they are; allowing students currently enrolled in the Magnet Program to complete the program; using Central College as a shared services facility to benefit families and students from across the district; and using Emerson, Hanby and Longfellow as buildings to house a variety of programs.  Potential program options for Emerson, Hanby, and Longfellow include elementary schools of choice, all day kindergarten for some students, and places for gifted education programs.  These are options being considered within the framework of the Strategic Plan and Five Year Forecast.  For Central College, several shared services options already brainstormed would involve community partners such as Westerville Area Resource Ministry, the Westerville Area Chamber of Commerce, Otterbein University and the City of Westerville.

Board members accepted the recommendation and encouraged the district’s leadership team to continue exploring shared services and educational program opportunities under option three.

Kellogg said it’s important for the Board and community to know that district leadership is not interested in expansion beyond available resources.

 “We have an opportunity to act now on promises made when the emergency levy passed to bring back some programs and services, but we must do so while meeting the five-year financial forecast,” Kellogg explained.  “We’re not in a spending frenzy.  We’re going to do the right things with the resources we have to meet the needs of our community and students.”

The district’s executive team will begin working on program and service opportunities, cost analyses and staffing needs associated with the option authorized by the Board for further exploration, with a recommendation to be presented for Board consideration in late winter or early spring.

As part of the business portion of its agenda, the Board approved a contract extension with Treasurer Bart Griffith, effective January 1, 2014 through July 31, 2018.  Griffith is in the final year of the original three-year contract he received when hired by the district in 2011.

The Board of Education will hold its annual Organizational Meeting at 6:00 p.m. on January 6, 2014, at the Early Learning Center, 936 Eastwind Drive.  New Board of Education members will be sworn in during the meeting, the Board will elect a President and Vice President, and the Board will set its 2014 meeting schedule.