What are the vital signs of a healthy school district? In Westerville City Schools, we think about this question quite often. Our district recently went through a “checkup,” and I am happy to report that as we begin the 2017-18 school year, our vital signs appear to be strong.
One vital sign that we monitor through various means is community confidence. Last spring, our community participated in a review of the progress we have made on our Strategic Plan. Participants confirmed that in addition to meeting requirements imposed by the state and federal government, we are doing a good job of providing the programs and opportunities the community wants for its children.
Another vital sign for a school district is its financial health. With an operating budget of around $170 million, we are one of the largest businesses in the area. During the Strategic Plan review, community members noted that not only we are doing a good job of managing our resources, but they recognize and appreciate the financial management strategies we have enacted to strengthen the fiscal position of our district.
Community confidence was on display last November when voters overwhelmingly approved our levy renewal request, and next November the reelection of our three Board of Education members with expiring terms will occur on an uncontested ballot. Because of our improved fiscal position, we have been able to reduce or eliminate costs for students who participate in our athletics, clubs, co-curricular activities and other fee-based programs. By decreasing these expenses to families, we increase opportunities for students while keeping their costs reasonable.
Our vital signs remain strong from an academic performance perspective, and they are only getting better. Ongoing literacy initiatives, combined with the tireless work of our teachers, have resulted in improvements to our Third Grade Reading Guarantee results. We have worked the past few years to expand course options for middle school students, while recent efforts to increase college and career readiness opportunities for high school students have resulted in more students challenging themselves with rigorous coursework. Our Performance Index score has gone up, which means more students are achieving at higher levels, and our graduation rate has increased as well.
During the Strategic Plan review, community members noted that it is time to take a closer look at our facilities in terms of their use and the appropriateness of academic spaces. As a result, a community-driven Facilities Committee is examining our aging facilities infrastructure, student enrollment forecast, and the impact of current/projected curriculum on our facilities. The outcome of this committee’s work will be the development of a long-range Facility Master Plan that addresses identified facility needs for at least the next 10 years.
If our schools are going to be great places for students to learn, then we also have to make sure they are great places for people to work. This year we welcomed slightly more than 90 employees who have decided that our district is where they want to begin or continue their professional career. Whether we hire a first-year rookie teacher or a veteran educator with years of experience, our students and our community continue to benefit from our ability to attract the best and brightest talent to work in our schools.
We have a saying in our district: “Westerville City Schools…Where You Belong.” This motto holds true whether you are a student, an employee, or a member of our community. The extent to which we put these words into action is perhaps our most important vital sign. I believe our schools are embracing this philosophy quite well. Enrollment is at an all-time high, we have an excellent staff in place and our community is thriving. Personally, I cannot think of anywhere else I’d rather be.
Thank you for the opportunity to educate the children of our community, and welcome to the 2017-18 school year!