Welcome to a new and exciting year.

Welcome to a new and exciting year.

Our students are reacquainting with old friends, meeting new friends in new settings, and discovering that the district's style of teaching has changed as well -- very much for the better. The new kindergarten through fifth grade arrangement allows our teachers to work together because they are no longer separated from each other in distant buildings. Teaching in teams will only enhance the sense of community our district has developed over the years.

Our teachers have looked forward to this for a very long time and I could not be happier for them or our K-5 students. Granted, our old buildings had major structural flaws, but creating a new teaching environment was not just a "bricks and mortar" decision. Our style of teaching was ready to evolve along with the district's facilities. The old buildings were far apart from each other, which forced elementary faculty to teach in isolation. Smooth transitions from grade to grade could be difficult for students as teachers struggled to coordinate lesson plans.

Our third grade students in particular should all be learning similar things as they prepare for their first round of state tests. Working together, our teachers can easily coordinate lesson plans, communicate with each other and cooperate to mentor students who may need extra help. Teaching in teams also helps to maintain reasonable class sizes.

Change and challenge go hand in hand. It's unrealistic to expect everything to operate perfectly, especially early in the year. For example, parents and students will notice some extended bus routes. Rest assured we are working hard to consolidate the routes as much as possible to save money on outrageous gasoline bills and to save time for parents and students alike. There are bound to be a few bumps in the road, but we will smooth them out together.

The most important ingredient of solutions is communication. I want to be certain communication between the district and the community strengthens relations in the same way communication between our teachers will strengthen lesson plans.

The district provides many sources of information for parents and community members: We have regular public meetings; each building publishes a newsletter which will be distributed mid-September in print and uploaded to the district's Web site at www.northridge.k12.oh.us; and plenty of information, like this column, will appear in local newspapers.

Of course anyone with questions is welcome to contact me directly. My phone number is (740) 967-6631 and my e-mail address is jtshepard@laca.org.

I strongly encourage everyone to attend our public meetings, especially those of our finance committee. Its members are discussing the upcoming 3.5-mill emergency operating levy, which would raise $750,000 to help alleviate the strain on our budget. The Ohio School Facilities Commission's Exceptional Needs Program has been delayed for six months as we collect more public input regarding our new buildings' designs. Now the emergency operation levy is extremely necessary and will appear on the November ballot.

Ohio's school funding method remains unconstitutional and incredibly complex, but it's the only one we have.

The Northridge Local School District is no longer many buildings spread across Licking County. It is Northridge elementary, intermediate, middle, and high schools. The new arrangement will unite our district in location and spirit.

Welcome back, everyone. It's going to be a great year.

John T. Shepard is superintendent of Northridge Local Schools.

John T.