Loss and success both marked 2012 for the Hilliard school district as staff members, students and community members mourned the untimely deaths of two high school students, experienced the bittersweet retirement announcement of a longtime leader and celebrated students' academic achievements and annual rites of passage.

Loss and success both marked 2012 for the Hilliard school district as staff members, students and community members mourned the untimely deaths of two high school students, experienced the bittersweet retirement announcement of a longtime leader and celebrated students' academic achievements and annual rites of passage.

Both high school students died in motor vehicle accidents over the summer and they would have attended Hilliard Bradley High School this past fall.

David Phillips III, 15, a sophomore, was killed Aug. 8 in a single-vehicle crash, and Austin Ratliff, 15, an incoming freshman, was killed July 23 in a motorcycle crash.

Phillips was one of five Bradley marching band members in a vehicle whose driver lost control on a stretch of Amity Road north of Beach Road in Brown Township. A high rate of speed was a factor in the accident, investigators said.

Phillips and the other students had left band camp at the high school to visit a friend and were returning for an evening session.

The Bradley marching band's memorial armbands bore the words, "He lived smiling," in reference to the wide grin Phillips often wore, which was depicted on photographs filling poster boards at the vigil for him Aug. 10 at the high school.

Lisa Galvin, assistant director of the Bradley marching band, spoke of "teachable moments" at the vigil, encouraging other students to remember and honor Phillips by their actions.

Ratliff, who had completed the eighth grade at Memorial Middle School and was a few weeks away from attending Bradley, was riding a motorcycle near his residence in Galloway about 7 p.m. July 23 when he lost control and struck a mailbox and tree.

He was not wearing a helmet and the motorcycle's speedometer was locked at 45 mph, according to reports from the Franklin County Sheriff's Office.

Memorial Middle School Principal Barry Bay described Ratliff as "upbeat and positive."

"Austin was a positive influence on those around him," Bay said.

Retirement news

The district experienced a loss of another kind when Superintendent Dale McVey announced in October he would retire, effective June 30, 2013.

McVey was hired in 1998 as the district's assistant superintendent and was named interim superintendent when Roger Nehls resigned in June 1999.

McVey initially passed on the school board's offer to accept the job, but as the board began to search outside the district for a superintendent, he reconsidered and became superintendent in 2000.

"I inherited an incredibly well-run district ... and had a legacy on which to build," McVey said.

McVey is credited with initiating the district's 2020 Plan, an initiative that engaged faculty, students and the community to create a strategic vision for the district, setting expectations and a vision for a 21st-century education in Hilliard schools, said district spokeswoman Amanda Morris.

He supervised the opening of three elementary schools, as well as Tharp Sixth Grade School and Bradley High School, and he negotiated five contracts with the district's two employee associations, participated in six redistricting efforts and guided the augmentation of district curriculum.

Performing with distinction

Under McVey's watch, the district also has performed exceptionally each year on the Ohio Department of Education's state report card, which uses test scores to measure student achievement and growth and grade each Ohio public school district accordingly.

According to preliminary results released last fall, Hilliard is poised to receive the highest possible rating of "Excellent with Distinction" for the fifth consecutive year. The ODE added "with distinction" to its ratings five years ago, and only 15 school districts in Ohio have received the highest rating for four consecutive years, according to district officials.

The official results for 2011-12 were put on hold while State Auditor David Yost investigated allegations of tampering with student-attendance data against several districts, including Columbus City Schools. However, the State Board of Education decided to release the current ratings to the public, though state officials did emphasize that the results would not be official until the investigation concluded.

It is all but official, though, that Hilliard -- which was not under investigation -- again will receive its top A-plus grade and achieved its highest-ever performance index score of 104.4, an increase over last year's 103.5, which was an increase over the previous year's 101.9. The performance index is a weighted average that includes all tested subjects and the number of untested students, with the greatest weight given to advanced scores, according to the ODE.

"This is simply another piece of the puzzle that shows Hilliard City Schools is achieving its mission of empowering students to thrive in the 21st century," McVey said. "We are very grateful to have such a supportive community, involved parents, excellent staff and dedicated students who have continued to work hard and provide a high-quality education experience for our students."

Top students

Even with the numerous accolades, McVey maintains that a district's success "always comes back to the students," and Hilliard students had plenty of that in 2012.

Six Hilliard students were named semifinalists in the 58th annual National Merit Scholarship program.

Davidson High School's Monica Ambrose, Matthias Heinz and Mubasil Shamim and Darby High School's Nicholas Antos, Benjamin Fair and Alan Li were among the 16,000 students from across the country who qualified as semifinalists.

The National Merit Scholarship program is an academic competition that began in 1955. High school students enter by taking the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test. Semifinalists are the highest-scoring entrants in each state.

The semifinalists can submit applications to be considered for 2,500 scholarships valued at $2,500. Other corporate-sponsored scholarships are available to 1,000 students who meet specified criteria, and another 4,900 college-sponsored scholarships are available through 200 colleges and universities, according to the National Merit Scholarship Corp.

Finalists will be announced in the spring.

From May 23-25, approximately 1,125 Hilliard seniors in the class of 2012 participated in an annual rite of passage into adulthood -- graduation.

District officials said 409 students graduated May 23 from Davidson High School; 328 students graduated May 24 from Darby High School; and 388 seniors graduated May 25 from Bradley High School. All three ceremonies were held at the Schottenstein Center on the Ohio State University campus.

The Davidson valedictorian was Abbey McNaughton, the salutatorian was Henry Tran and the historian was William Carson IV.

The Darby valedictorian was Jonathan Antos and the salutatorian was Garrett Merz.

The Bradley valedictorian was Christine Showalter and the salutatorian was Casey Hribar.

DARE ends

As a part of restructuring within the Hilliard Division of Police, the city of Hilliard opted to end the DARE program in the local schools.

City officials said the drug education and resistance program served the city well for the past 20 years, but they considered its rigid curriculum not as effective as it once was.

School resource officers at each of the district's three high schools will remain proactive in addressing narcotics and drug abuse in the district, city and school officials said.