The year 2012 was marked with a great deal of changes for Bexley City Schools, from leadership to policies to academic rigor.
But even though change was prominent, one thing remained the same: The district earned an A-plus on its state report card for the 12th year in a row, based on preliminary data released by the Ohio Department of Education.
More change may be in the works for the district as the state makes plans to revamp its report card ratings. The move might mean a lower ranking for Bexley and many other districts throughout the state of Ohio.
Regardless, the district's focus on improvement will continue, based on the events of 2012.
Excellent report card
The Bexley City School District learned it achieved top honors -- an "excellent with distinction" rating -- on its state report card for the 12th year in a row this year.
Word on the state rankings was slow in coming because of an investigation of data tampering involving various districts throughout the state of Ohio. The Ohio Department of Education released only partial test data in August, citing the ongoing probe by State Auditor David Yost into alleged irregularities in the reporting of student attendance by local districts throughout the state.
The state continues to look into inconsistencies in attendance reported by dozens of school districts throughout Ohio, questioning whether data was been tampered with in order to improve state test scores.
For Bexley City Schools and other districts, it was an unusual situation for educators and administrators. Data was released piecemeal, with preliminary ratings published by ODE in late September.
But the news may not be so good next year under a new rating system proposed by ODE.
Under the much-anticipated grade card proposal, districts would transition to a letter grade, similar to those that students receive, replacing the current ratings of excellent, effective, continuous improvement, academic watch and academic emergency. Grades also would be based on state achievement test results, whether a student made a year's growth (or more), several performance measures, and student growth regardless of socioeconomic, racial or disability status.
'Green' board gets to work
The new year brought three new school board members into service. With the two remaining board members elected just three years ago, the panel was fairly "green" this year.
That fact didn't worry the board's new leadership.
Board President Carol Fey said she was "very excited about their collective energy." In order to facilitate that transition, the two "veteran" and three new board members met for a retreat in December 2011.
Fey's goals included seeing an improvement in communication and more academic gains -- all while providing students with the social and emotional supported that parents have come to expect.
The board and the district touched on most of those this year, making the gains Fey called for by increasing communication through community forums and improvements to the website, adding free Wi-Fi to the schools, continuing academic gains, and taking steps to hire one staff member to serve as the coordinator of the districts social and emotional well-being.
Policy for personal devices
Following five months of intense discussions and revisions, Bexley's board of education passed its newly revised acceptable-use policy for devices such as cellphones and tablet computers in October.
District officials first came to the panel with a proposed policy in June.
The newly revised policy expands the use of personal electronic devices in the classroom, taking into consideration parental acceptance, lack of access to personal devices, and training by students pertaining to proper and ethical use.
The plan went into effect immediately, although parents and students are being asked to agree to the policy's guidelines over the winter break.
On the coattails of the new policy, the district decided to install free wireless access for student, community and staff use. The expanded Internet access dovetailed with the district's policy work, guiding and encouraging the use of personal technology devices at school to enhance teaching and learning.
A Bexley Education Foundation grant of $195,000 supplemented district funds of $200,000 to provide about 144 wireless access points across the district and its green spaces, as well as upgraded switches, tablets and other materials plus teacher training.
Class size debates
Bexley's school board unanimously agreed to smaller class sizes in the district's three elementary schools in late April after months of debate and public input on the topic.
The subject traditionally has been a hot topic each year.
Between 50 and 60 community members filled the Jeffrey Mansion to voice their opinions on the subject during a special spring board meeting, applauding loudly when board members moved to amend the former class size policy at the elementary level.
Class- size policy at the middle school and high school levels remain the same.
Under the new policy, class sizes in grades K-3 are now capped at 25 students. Grades 4-6 are capped at 27.
Class numbers the district will "strive to maintain" are much lower, according to the policy, but the district cannot be held accountable for those ranges -- only the caps.
Web pages split
The Bexley Athletic Boosters pulled away from the Bexley City School District's joint athletic website this year, deciding to operate a site on their own after negotiations between the two to improve communication broke down.
The decision came during ongoing talks between the district and the boosters in an effort to overcome communication issues involving sports schedules, coach communication and game updates.
"Given the school district's concerns over the current joint website, the Boosters executive committee has determined to start updating the content of the bexleylions.org website to only include Boosters-related information, with the understanding that there is to be a prominently displayed link to the Boosters website included on the school-based Athletic Department Website," Bryan Drewry, president of the Bexley Athletic Boosters, said in a letter to Superintendent Mike Johnson in October.
Drewry's letter also stated " ... given the school district's decision to develop its own site, and the effects of this decision on the Boosters' ability to raise money to support the current joint website, the Boosters executive committee has determined that we are not in the position to continue funding the school district's portion of the web site beyond Dec. 31, 2012."
The two continue to work together in transition and have pledged continued support and cooperation.
Stable financial status
District coffers will remain relatively stable for now, but spending will outweigh revenue in about two years, Bexley City Schools officials said.
District Treasurer Chris Essman presented board members with the latest financial information in November in the form of his five-year forecast, saying Bexley stands on sure footing for the moment but should begin talking about a levy in the near future.
"We're still in very, very good shape," he told board members in November. "We are trying to save money anywhere and everywhere we can."
In fact, Essman predicts the district will nearly double its savings by the year 2016 as compared to previous projections.
According to Essman's forecast, the district will fall into deficit spending by fiscal year 2014. At that point, the district could be outspending by more than $1 million, according to Essman's projections. Because of a healthy fund balance, though, the district's bottom line will remain at about $15.5 million in the black.
Essman cautioned the board should not wait too long to begin talking about generating revenue.
New athletic director
Following the resignation of former athletic director Molly Feesler in June, Bexley's leadership was charged with filling the position quickly over the summer months.
Feesler left the district for a similar position with Pickerington Local Schools. She had been with Bexley as athletic director since 2008.
Corinne Taylor was hired by the board in August. She brought with her more than six years of experience as athletic director with the Columbus City Schools, holding positions at East and Whetstone high schools.
District remembers Davis
Bexley City Schools staff and families also marked the one-year anniversary of teacher Molly Davis' death in August. Staff at Cassingham Elementary School and Bexley Middle School worked together to mark Aug. 31, 2012, as Molly Davis Day, remembering the beloved Cassingham teacher who died in a car accident in March 2011.
Cassingham Principal Jeannine Hetzler, who taught alongside the late Davis in the school's fifth grade, described the event as "an opportunity for students and their former teachers to reconnect."
Planning also continues for a Molly Davis Memorial Garden outside of Cassingham Elementary School.
Celebrated author visits
For acclaimed author Jonathan Safran Foer, visiting Bexley in April as part of the Bexley Education Foundation's Community Book Club selected author program, it was a whirlwind tour.
The soft-spoken author met with students in both large-group and small-group settings April 15 before appearing at a community session later in the evening.
Foer has been called one of the most influential and controversial writers of the last decade, and was named one of Rolling Stone's "People of the Year" and Esquire's "Best and Brightest."
He is best known for his novels Everything Is Illuminated (2002) and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2005), both of which were filmed for the big screen.
Author Jennifer Egan has been named as the Bexley Community Book Club's selected author for 2013. Discussions and programs in preparation for her visit next April have been ongoing this fall.
Awards for the Torch
Last year was a stellar year for the 2011-12 Torch.
In August, the Bexley High School student newspaper received top honors from two national student press organizations for its work in the 2011-12 school year.
The National Scholastic Press Association awarded the Torch the highest possible "All-American honor rating." The publication also earned marks of distinction in coverage/content, writing/editing, layout/design and leadership.
The Columbia Scholastic Press Association also awarded the Torch a Gold Medalist designation, its highest honor. CSPA is affiliated with the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University and was founded in 1925 as a resource for student journalists and faculty advisers.
In December, the Torch was one of 26 high school news publications nationwide to receive the 2012 George H. Gallup award from Quill & Scroll for its work during the 2011-12 school year.
The George H. Gallup award is the highest award granted to high school news publications by Quill & Scroll. It is granted based on "extraordinary journalistic accomplishment, exceptional service to the school and community, coverage, writing and reporting."
Co-editors Meredith Margulies, Alec Robins and Ivy Tran led the 2011-12 Torch staff, composed of 54 juniors and seniors who served as reporters, editors, photographers and graphic designers. English and journalism teacher Julie Horger is the newspaper staff's adviser.