By Linda Dillman
Canal Winchester Schools Superintendent James Sotlar is resigning effective Aug. 1 to take over as the chief executive officer of META Solutions, an information technology center serving schools throughout the area.
He notified the Canal Winchester Board of Education of his resignation June 24.
“Serving as the superintendent of Canal Winchester Local Schools for the last 10 years has been the highlight of my career,” said Sotlar in a letter to the district. “It is an honor to work with such a caring and dedicated team of professionals with the support of families and the community and to be trusted with the care and education of our community’s children. I am so proud of everything we have accomplished together. The district is fortunate to have a strong financial outlook and has wisely managed the taxpayers’ investment in education. In fact, the district is one of few around the state that has not asked for additional taxpayer money since 2009.”
During Sotlar’s decade-long tenure at Canal Winchester, the district renovated the high school, launched a robust mental health program, implemented one-to-one technology, the Portrait of a Graduate program, and navigated the challenges of educating students during a pandemic.
“While I am incredibly proud of all these accomplishments, I am most proud of the amazing team of educators and professionals we have put together at Canal Winchester Schools. Our staff demonstrates every day their dedication and care for the children of this community,” wrote Sotlar. “We have an outstanding leadership team in place and a committed board of education at the helm. This team knows the community well and will continue to steer the district to do what is best for kids at every step. Although leaving is bittersweet, I am confident that the people at Canal Winchester Schools are among the best you could find anywhere and that the district is in great hands. I often close my messages by saying, ‘Make it a great day or not… the choice is yours.’ I leave knowing that Canal Winchester will always choose to make it great – and that’s why this community is an incredible place to live, learn, and work.”
The school board plans to meet in a special session in the near future to determine the best path forward in selecting Sotlar’s replacement.
Other CW Schools news
Canal Winchester Schools are looking to enhance its mental health program.
During the June 21 Canal Winchester Board of Education meeting, Assistant Superintendent Kiya Hunt discussed the district’s mental health program and restructuring a mental health specialist position by adding team supervisor duties at a $12,000 stipend to an existing contract held by Danny Morales.
According to Hunt, the district has seen an increase in mental health needs within the student population over the last several years. The pandemic, isolation, and socio-economic issues at home exacerbated an already-overwhelmed system within the district’s counseling program and with outside mental health providers.
These issues are the driving force behind restructuring the mental health team, which includes: four specialists, graduate student interns, certified behavior analyst, school social worker, school counselors, and Nationwide Children’s Hospital clinicians.
“I believe our mental health plan is actually one that will be able to service all of our students in either their building or with resources if we are not able to,” Hunt said. “Danny is already supervising the interns and that comes with a big job, but also being able to oversee the entire program and be a liaison. We put this together so it would be very clear who would see which students and how they would be referred. Having Danny in this position is going to be a super help for us to look at what is needed and how best to use funds.”
Student needs include help with anxiety and depression, eating disorders, addition, suicidal ideation, obsessive compulsive disorder, conduct disorder, ADHD, anger management, trauma, PTSD, and self-harm. A teacher or parent/guardian can report possible behavior or mental health concerns to a school counselor, who then reviews notes or screens the student.
If issues are suspected, a general education student is referred to a Nationwide Children’s school-based clinician and an official assessment is conducted. If the student is in the special education program, an official assessment is conducted. The assessment outcome determines the course of action.
According to Hunt, the program costs the district approximately $800,000 annually. Medicaid reimburses the district between $130,000 and $160,000.
“This trend is not going away and I think we could be a benchmark for other districts,” said board member Matt Krueger. “This is a great structure.”