Continuing to improve
School system sets the bar high for 2013
With more than a decade of experience at the helm of Bexley City Schools, Superintendent Michael Johnson sees room for improvement -- even if it appears the district has reached the top of the ladder.
His goals this year are solidly built on continuing to promote academic excellence, effectively communicating with the community, and providing for the cultural, social, emotional and safety needs of the students in Bexley -- all while remaining fiscally responsible.
They are goals he feels confident the district can meet in 2013 despite challenges and unknowns, primarily at the state level.
Sitting in his office reviewing those challenges as the year 2012 wrapped up last month, he stressed that his No. 1 goal as head of the district is to promote continuous-improvement activities that would aid in maintaining the district's "excellent" rating with the state.
But how much higher can the district go? U.S. News and World Report ranked Bexley High School as second in the state. Johnson admitted there are many variables in play, particularly at the state level, which may affect the district's rating this year. But his goal is always to aim high.
"There might be a different kind of rating in the future," Johnson said, "but the assumption is whatever that may be, we need to pursue the top end of it."
Continuing to implement the new Common Core standards is paramount to making that goal a success, he said, as well as putting in place state-mandated procedures in providing for the Third Grade Reading Guarantee -- something Johnson philosophically disagrees with.
He said the district also will focus on implementing a new evaluation system for principals this year, another component mandated by the state. Performance-based pay is now the name of the game for administrators at each school, and likely will filter down to teachers in the near future, he said.
Continuing to use "best practices," a research-based approach to success, also is paramount to achievement, Johnson said.
A second goal, which actually appears for the second year in a row in Bexley, is improved communication, both internally and externally. Johnson and school board members have worked diligently this year to open doors between the district and the public, holding forums and expanding the use of the Internet to hear from those who have ideas and concerns.
In that same vein, Johnson said he would like to build on that work by continuing to use the district's website to communicate effectively, and to begin thinking about how the use of social media can mirror that commitment to efficient communication.
A third goal, which already was the focus of the district's attention in 2012, is ensuring the well-being of the students, said Johnson.
The district already has spent some time in 2012 looking at a position to oversee and coordinate the district's existing programs, but Johnson said it goes well beyond the hiring of one person.
"While there has been focus on that position, it's really about implementing a plan ... about the cultural, social, emotional and safety needs of kids."
In light of the recent shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Johnson said the district will look at its security measures and scour them for any holes or room for improvement.
"It has caused us to look at our procedures," he said. "We have a committee in place and we're examining them constantly."
A new focus likely will be in shortening response time -- from the time a threat becomes apparent to the moment police arrive. Johnson feels that can be reduced in Bexley, possibly by allowing for teachers to launch a lockdown if the threat is apparent to them, instead of coordinating it through an administrator.
There also is considerable debate around the use of ALICE, or Alert-Lockdown-Inform-Counter-Evacuate, in threatening situations. It's the "counter" part of the measure that is drawing controversy, Johnson said, because it advocates that children be trained to distract an intruder by throwing books or chairs at him or her as a security measure.
"We are not participating (in ALICE)," Johnson said. "We could consider it, but we would not do it without board deliberation and approval."
Finally, Johnson said fiscal responsibility is another one of the district's goals in the upcoming year, as it is always.
"We want to continue to be diligent about an optimal level of efficiency while maintaining quality educational programming," he said.