Reynoldsburg teacher gets OK for sabbatical to make 2,650-mile t

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Reynoldsburg teacher Cindy Morehart, who has hiked on seven continents, including Antarctica, has received approval for a sabbatical leave to hike the 2,650-mile Pacific Crest Trail, which will be used as an educational opportunity and a physical fitness challenge for the students at Herbert Mills Elementary School.

A journey of a thousand miles (or more) begins with a single step, and Reynoldsburg teacher Cindy Morehart’s quest to inspire her students by trekking the Pacific Crest Trail took a leap forward Feb. 19 with the school board’s approval of her 2009 sabbatical leave.

"It’s definitely not a vacation," Herbert Mills Elementary School teacher Greta Clouse said of Morehart’s 2,650-mile hike from the Mexican border to Canada, carrying a 40-pound pack over deserts and snow-capped peaks. "She will be physically, emotionally and mentally tested. And Mrs. Morehart has big plans for all of us."

Morehart wants to use her experience to promote physical fitness for students and the community through the "Look Who’s Walking Now" program, and to educate the children about the environments and cultures she will be visiting.

Clouse and other colleagues spoke in support of Morehart, who presented her request for the leave between April 20 and Sept. 11, 2009, at last month’s board meeting.

Herbert Mills Principal Craig Seckel said he was in full support of Morehart’s proposal.

Morehart, a reading specialist at Herbert Mills and a Reynoldsburg teacher for 26 years, could not attend the February meeting because she was in Mexico with the Monarch Teacher Network, studying the butterflies she will bring back to the classroom.

"I would like to thank Reynoldsburg Board of Education, Mr. Craig Seckel and the rest of the staff at Herbert Mills for their support of my Pacific Crest Trail Project, " Morehart responded by email.

Board members Cheryl Max, Andrew Swope, Chip Martin and Mary Burcham voted in favor of of the sabbatical, with Jim Slonaker casting the lone no vote.

Slonaker said he was concerned about having Morehart out of the classroom for the end of one school year and the beginning of another, periods he believes are "a crucial time" for bonding with students and for providing testing.

Martin voiced his own reservations before being swayed by Clouse’s arguments, including the district’s uncertain financial future.

"We don’t know what next year is going to look like," pointed out Martin of the district with a building bond issue on the March ballot and an operating levy anticipated, as well.

Martin also pointed out that the board had opted for unpaid leaves, rather than paid sabbaticals, for four other teachers, including one now in Russia, and that they should be consistent.

In the end, Martin said he was swayed by the potential benefits for the school.

Morehart had argued that the sabbatical would come at no additional cost to the district, with a substitute being paid from her own salary.

But the district would still be paying for two teachers, Max responded. "It’s kind of like paying Mrs. Morehart when she’s not there."

Clouse said that, through a satellite phone hook-up and a web site, Morehart will be in contact with students, and will probably be in touch with them during the summer more than any other teacher.

While the average time to traverse the Pacific Crest Trail is six months, Morehart expects to complete it in less than five to limit her time away from the district, Clouse added.

And Morehart hopes everyone will follow in her footsteps by matching the mileage she will cover with their own walking.

There will be assemblies and presentations before her departure and continuing educational opportunities afterward, as followed her walk along the Appalachian Trail in 2001.

"What an exciting time for the children and all those involved with the project.  My work begins immediately and I am thrilled!" Morehart enthused via email.

Bond issue campaign

Another group with an uphill battle before them, the district’s bond issue campaign committee, reported on their efforts to educate residents before the March 4 vote.

"This is an important issue. It will benefit and affect everyone in the community," commented Len Hartman on the 4.9-mill bond issue and maintenance levy on the ballot.

Passage will bring in $56 million in local funds, to be matched by $55 from the state for the construction of a second high school and seventh elementary school, along with renovations to other district buildings.

Forty percent of the funding would go to the high school and elementary building, with the remaining money earmarked for renovations, Hartman pointed out.

"Everybody’s getting a piece of it," he said.

The board is also planning to spend a year, after the issue passes, to discuss the configuration of the second high school, Hartman noted.

"It is my belief that a good community begins with good schools," stated Roger Scheetz, who, along with his wife, Linda, has joined Hartman and Ginita Kirksey in getting the word out.

Volunteers have been distributing literature and making phone calls and speaking to community organizations.

District officials will be available to answer questions at a town hall meeting Feb. 26 at 7 p.m. at Hannah Ashton Middle School.

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