Reynoldsburg ready to reach out on school building plan

In the wake of what is believed to be the passage of a 4.9-mill bond issue and tax levy for building construction, renovations and maintenance, the Reynoldsburg school district is planning 27 meetings in 60 days to get students, staff and community members involved in designing two new schools.

At the March 18 meeting of the Reynoldsburg Board of Education, Assistant Superintendent Dan Hoffman announced the debut of the "Reynoldsburg Reach" program, which will fulfill the board’s promise to seek broad-based public input into the design of the schools.

"We promised we would come to the community with the intent of listening and learning together," Hoffman said.

Although the final verdict is still out, the district is proceeding as if the issue has passed, reported Superintendent Stephen Dackin.

"Unofficially we are up 186 votes," Dackin said, noting that provisional votes are still being counted in Franklin, Licking and Fairfield counties. "We are waiting patiently. I am cautiously optimistic about our opportunities here."

At stake is $56 million in local funds, plus another $55 million from the Ohio School Facilities Commission for construction of a second high school, a seventh elementary school and refurbishing of the district’s other buildings. If approved, the issue will cost the owner of a $100,000 home an additional $150 a year in taxes.

While school officials wait for the final results, they are planning open meetings at each of the district’s 11 schools in April and May, Hoffman explained.

"Participants will evaluate several options by listing Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats in a format called a ‘SWOT’ analysis," he said.

The district is planning similar meetings for staff at each school, as well as five student focus groups – one at each middle school, at each junior high and at the high school.

"We really want to listen to what our constituency is saying to us," Hoffman said.

Plans for high school

Hoffman said the meetings will begin with three possibilities for the high school design, with the first option two featuring comprehensive high schools, which was assumed in the district’s master facilities plan.

"This design would create two 9-12 schools with substantially similar offerings and their own identities," Hoffman said. "Attendance likely would be determined by geographic boundaries as with all of our existing schools."

The second option would be one school for grades 9-10 and one school for grades 11-12, Hoffman said.

"One campus would house ninth- and 10th-graders, and the second campus would house 11th- and 12th-graders," he said. "This option, put forward by some community members during the bond issue campaign, would retain one high school identity."

Hoffman said the final option would be small schools under one roof.

"Six small high schools would be housed on two campuses," he said. "This option, brought to the table by the district leadership, would provide schools with different instructional or programmatic themes. Attendance would be based on student/parent choice."

Possibilities include a humanities/arts school, a language immersion school, or a science/technology/engineering/math school, Hoffman said.

As the meetings progress, other ideas for the high school level may emerge, but this is a starting point, Hoffman noted.  "Those are the three we want to start with and see what emerges."

Elementary options

For the elementary school, two options will be presented including creating a sixth elementary.

"A traditional elementary school would offer substantially similar programs and instruction as in our existing schools," Hoffman said, noting that the district would have to redraw its existing attendance boundaries.

The second option would be instituting a "choice elementary" with a specialized curriculum with attendance based on student/parent choice, as in a magnet school. A school with a language immersion program or a science/technology/engineering/math focus may be options, he continued.

Next steps

The community’s evaluations of these options at both the high school and elementary level will be presented to the board of education, which ultimately will decide which options to pursue.

Dackin acknowledged the committee will have its hands full conducting 27 meetings in 60 days.

"This is ambitious, there is no doubt about that," he said. "But it’s exciting. I can’t think of too many communities that have this opportunity."

Once plans for the new construction are determined, another round of community input will be sought regarding the extensive renovations planned at six of the district’s existing schools.

The district won’t be wasting any time, as it has three years from the official passage of the bond issue to complete the projects, Hoffman said. The new buildings are scheduled to open in 2010, and the renovations are to be completed the following year.

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