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Gahanna-Jefferson Schools

Biden visit, new superintendent highlight district's past year

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MARLA K. KUHLMAN/THISWEEKNEWS
Lincoln Elementary School teacher Jill Rak introduces Superintendent Francis Scruci to her second-grade class in August as Aurora Conner looks on.
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A vice presidential visit, a change in superintendents and partnership with businesses at the new Commons at Clark Hall are among the highlights of 2012 for the Gahanna-Jefferson schools.

One of the most exciting events of the year for students and staff was the Jan. 12 visit of Vice President Joe Biden and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

Then-Superintendent Mark White said the visit marked the first time in history a vice president had visited the high school.

Biden and Duncan addressed the 550-member senior class of Gahanna Lincoln High School, parents and local dignitaries about keeping the middle-class dream alive by keeping college affordable.

A White House sign that read, "A strong middle class ... Making college affordable," hung high behind the speaker's platform at the town-hall-style meeting.

Junior Jenny Huynh said financial aid would help determine where she would attend college.

"If we could all go to our dream school, that would be ideal," she said. "Anything that helps pay tuition plays a role into the decision."

In addition to Biden's actual visit, the community was buzzing a week in advance with the arrival of the White House advance team, who stayed at the Holiday Day Inn Express and dined at J. Gumbo's.

Several weeks after Biden's visit, White announced Jan. 24 that he would resign effective July 31 to pursue new career opportunities.

White began working in the Gahanna community in 2001 as principal of Gahanna Lincoln High School. In 2008, he was selected to serve as the district's assistant superintendent. He became superintendent two year later, succeeding Gregg Morris, who retired.

White said he looked forward to other professional challenges, and he wanted to spend more time with his family in Texas. He said the timing for his resignation was ideal because the district wasn't negotiating a teachers contract and had no proposed ballot issue.

After an extensive search for a new superintendent, the school board approved a three-year contract on May 21, naming with Francis R. Scruci as the district's next superintendent, effective Aug. 1.

Scruci had worked as superintendent of Wellington Exempted Village Schools in Lorain County since 2008.

"I'll give 110 percent every day," Scruci said. "You have an outstanding district with quality people from top to bottom. I'm excited to be a part of a district that truly values education.

"We'll do great things here. The key word is 'we,'" Scruci said. "It will be about us working together."

In his application package to G-J, Scruci said his most significant contribution to Wellington has been related to fiscal responsibility.

He helped the district pass a new three-year operating levy in May 2011, the first new millage approved by voters in 20 years. Scruci also helped implement cost-saving measures over three years, taking the district from a deficit of more than $4 million to a carryover of $3.4 million and a positive forecast through 2015.

The Gahanna-Jefferson school district also welcomed partnerships with businesses at the new Commons at Clark Hall in the fall.

Scruci said the district is enjoying a revenue stream from the land leases at the 14,000-square-foot and 9,000-square-foot single-story buildings.

Chipotle Mexican Grill, Panera Bread, Rusty Bucket and AT&T were among the first tenants. Others include Smashburger, the Gahanna Vision Center and Menchie's Frozen Yogurt.

"It's exciting to have those spaces filled," Scruci said. "The Rusty Bucket has been a wonderful partner, reaching out to the district and donating back."

The restaurant donated $1,300 to the Gahanna-Jefferson Education Foundation during a Nov. 7 special event prior to its grand opening the following day.

"We hope to develop that partnership with all the business at the Commons at Clark Hall," Scruci said.

The Gahanna-Jefferson schools will receive an annual $132,000 lease payment from commercial developer Wagenbrenner Inc. for the land that the retail/restaurant development is built upon.

G-J treasurer Julio Valladares said the development would raise $88,000 in real estate taxes annually. The project is expected to bring an additional 70 jobs to Gahanna, with an annual payroll of $2 million, thus generating roughly $30,000 annually in income taxes, Valladares said.

Scruci said he has enjoyed getting to know the district and its residents during the past five months.

"In terms of the district itself, we've had a lot of recognition, in terms of athletics and academics," Scruci said.

A record number of Gahanna Lincoln High School students competed June 11-15 in Indianapolis for the National Forensic League's speech and debate tournament.

Assistant coach Kristen Juth said Lincoln was represented in six events with eight students -- the most ever taken to nationals. The high school has been represented with up to six students in past years, she said.

"The diversity among the students sets them apart," Juth said. "For the first time, in many areas, they are so cohesive. They have strengths in different areas and they support each other."

School board member Heather Bishoff is vacating her seat effective Sunday, Dec. 30, because she won her bid in November for the Ohio House of Representatives' 20th District seat.

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