Alder hopes to preserve commencement tradition

(Posted April 15, 2020)

By Kristy Zurbrick, Madison Editor

High school seniors are missing out on a lot this year with schools closed due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. One rite of passage Jonathan Alder administrators hope to preserve is commencement.

“Our goal is to have a traditional commencement ceremony,” said Superintendent Gary Chapman during the school board’s April 13 meeting, held online using Facebook Live.

Whether the district achieves that goal or a variation of it depends on what state leaders decide in the coming weeks. Currently, Governor Mike DeWine has a stay-at-home order in place through May 1. To give families time to plan, Jonathan Alder leaders hope to make a decision about commencement shortly after May 1.

Chapman said several scenarios are under consideration, all of which depend on state guidelines for social distancing. The first is to hold commencement in the high school gym or at the stadium on May 24, the original date for the ceremony. Another possibility is to do the same but at a later date, should stay-at-home orders remain in place beyond May 1; one possible date is June 21. Even later dates are a possibility but not as likely, Chapman said.

“Worst case, we hold a modified ceremony that’s a combination of traditional and virtual,” he said.

Commencement is a “great tradition” that caps 12 years of work for a student, said Steve Votaw, board member.

“We should try to make it happen the best we can,” he said.

“We need to at least try to give normalcy to graduation after (the students) lost so much this spring,” said Mary Jo Boyd, board member.

Chapman said the district is seeking input from the seniors themselves as to what options they prefer. The district is open to suggestions, he added.

Grading plan

The district has settled on a grading plan for the fourth quarter of the school year. Students in grades 5-12 will receive either a pass or incomplete, rather than traditional letter grades. Those who receive an incomplete for a course will have until the start of next school year to remedy it.

“Distance/remote learning doesn’t look the same as traditional learning… We decided (pass/incomplete) is fair for the students and fair for the teachers,” said Misty Swanger, assistant superintendent and curriculum director.

Students in pre-kindergarten through fourth grade will receive narrative reports about their strengths and areas that need improvement. Normally, they are assessed based on mastery of content standards.

“This is what a lot of other school districts are doing,” Swanger said.


The district provided 260 Chromebooks to households with students who needed them. Initially, each household was limited to one device. Chapman said the district is considering offering additional devices to families with more than one child enrolled in the school system.

Grab-and-go meals

Grab-and-go meals for students continue to be offered from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays at Plain City Elementary and Monroe Elementary. The district’s cooks are preparing the meals. On average, the district is distributing 200 meals per day.


Treasurer Aaron Johnson predicts that COVID-19 will have a negative financial impact on the district’s five-year financial forecast. He is already factoring into the current budget decreases in income tax. He said property tax collections could be down, too. Chapman said he is considering reconvening the district’s financial advisory committee. Board members Steve Votaw and Shannon Foust are among the committee’s members.

Athletic director

The board accepted the resignation of Tom Vargo, high school athletic director and dean of students. Vargo has been with the district for 34 years. His retirement goes into effect on July 31. Chapman thanked him for his “tremendous service.”

Old elementary building

The district rents out the former Plain City Elementary building at 340 W. Main St. to several tenants, some of whom use the building for operations and others for storage. Because the building has become cost prohibitive to maintain, Chapman has let the tenants know they might need to look for other accommodations.

Those renting space in the building include Daily Needs Assistance, Vineyard Church, Plain City Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3268, and the Plain City Historical Society. Jonathan Alder’s latchkey program also operates out of the building.

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