Industries that do not adapt to meet the needs of their clients and customers, or those that do not innovate to keep pace with their competitors, frequently fail. The same holds true for education. More often than not, our industry is notoriously slow to embrace change. The best way to overcome this, however, is to maintain our schools and operations according to what is desired most at the local level.
Research shows that the spaces in which students learn have a tremendous impact on both their ability and enthusiasm toward learning. A term that is often used to describe schools and classrooms where students are inspired and highly engaged is “Active Learning Community” (ALC). Consider the following research findings on ALCs:
- Traditional measures such as exams and course grades, as well as measures of 21st century skills, show that students learn better in ALCs.
- Students are more engaged and prefer learning in an ALC versus traditional spaces. They also report increased motivation to attend class and a greater willingness to participate in class.
- Because the environment supports it, teachers tend to use active learning techniques more frequently in ALCs than they do if teaching in traditional classrooms.
- ALCs can transform educational institutions by creating a new culture of learning. The new norms, practices, and beliefs that result have a positive impact on how individuals perform their work and interact with each other.
This is what we’re working toward here in Westerville City Schools. Our newly-developed 10-Year Facilities Master Plan is designed to begin transforming our oldest schools into places that support modern teaching and learning techniques. We also need to ensure our budgeting practices support this effort by providing the personnel and resources needed to be successful.
In July, our Board of Education voted unanimously to request additional funding for facilities and operations by placing a combined levy on the November 5, 2019, ballot. The levy includes 1.95 mills for facilities and 5.9 mills for continuing operations. Through careful management, stretching dollars, and taking rigorous care of school facilities, it has been seven years since we last asked voters for new operating revenue and 19 years since asking for new schools to manage enrollment growth.
Yes, our district is growing again, and that’s a good thing. People moving into our community or starting a family are indicators that the overall health of our community, and our schools, is strong. Since 2003, when we last opened new schools for enrollment growth, about 1,300 more students have joined our district. And, we’re projected to add another 1,300 students over the next 10 years.
Our district reached a record enrollment of 15,385 in the 2018-19 school year and is running out of space. Additional resources will allow the district to ensure it has an appropriate teaching staff to address larger class sizes and provide individual attention for students as enrollment grows.
Should residents approve November’s ballot issue, it would provide the revenue needed to complete facility projects specified in the first five years of the Facilities Master Plan. These projects include safety/security updates at all schools; renovations and additions at Annehurst and Whittier elementary schools; renovations at Hawthorne Elementary School; infrastructure updates at Emerson, Hanby and Longfellow elementary schools; and a new elementary school and a new middle school in southern end of our district.
Completion of these projects means the following for our schools, students, and community:
- More students will be able to attend schools closer to their homes and neighborhoods, rather than having to bus them across the district.
- Every school will receive more modern security features and systems to keep students and staff safe.
- We will be better able to implement our redesigned middle school curriculum and ensure that both middle and high school students have access to courses where they can explore high-demand careers, such as engineering, business, logistics, and the medical profession.
- Buildings will receive much-needed modern equipment and system upgrades so they can support a technologically advanced education that allows graduates to be more competitive in college and the workplace.
- Staff levels will be maintained to help address larger class sizes and provide individualized attention for students.
Last August, I stated in my Back to School message that when our community receives national acclaim, our schools play an important part in achieving those accolades. This past February, the City of Westerville was one of only three cities in the United States to be named a “2019 Top 7 Intelligent Community” by the Intelligent Community Forum (ICF). Cities in Australia, Canada, and Taiwan also were among the recipients of this honor.
One initiative the ICF cited as contributing to Westerville’s selection for this honor is our district's Career Pathways program, which creates new post-secondary education options for students while closing workforce gaps. If nothing else, this reinforced to me that our district has a significant impact on our community’s overall success.
Education has always been a point of pride for our community. I believe the plans we have in place for the future of our public schools will contribute to this now international reputation. I encourage everyone to learn more and remain informed about what we hope to achieve through November’s ballot issue for our students and community. Welcome to the 2019-20 School Year!
John R. Kellogg, Ed.D.