Licking County News

Jennell: SWL must cultivate more academic opportunities

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Some of his goals may take years to achieve, but some could be met sooner, said Southwest Licking Superintendent Robert Jennell.

Jennell outlined his goals and vision for the district during the Sept. 19 board meeting.

"We need to look at things to take us to the next step," he said. "These are things that will make us a better place."

Southwest Licking needs to be "a place of destination," Jennell said.

"We can't just say: 'We're Southwest Licking Schools, come to us,' " he said.

Jennell said it's very important to offer the appropriate courses and extracurricular activities to attract and retain students who are considering open-enrollment opportunities.

"We should provide facilities for 21st-century possibilities," said Jennell, adding that approval of the district's 6.04-mill bond issue on the Nov. 5 ballot for renovations and new construction would go a long way to help Southwest Licking meet that goal.

Jennell said it's easy for school districts to focus on preparing students for four-year college programs, but the district also needs to look at offering the best graduation paths for students who plan to join the military, go directly into the job market or enter a two-year college program.

"That's part of being a destination district," Jennell said. "What are we going to be known for?"

Jennell also said the district needs to improve its results on the state report card from the Ohio Department of Education.

The Ohio Department of Education now issues letter grades for individual criteria, creating what state officials say is a more accurate barometer of the effectiveness of a district's education relative to individual students. Districts will not receive overall letter grades until 2015, according to the ODE.

The new report-card format also includes more value-added categories, which measure the amount of progress students achieve in one school year.

While Southwest Licking schools generally performed well, it received some low marks. Last year, the district was rated Excellent with Distinction.

"That needs to be a vision that we continue to improve," Jennell said. "The Excellent with Distinction was just a snapshot in time. It's something to be proud of, but kids move up. You have a new set of kids."

Jennell said he also wants to establish true neighborhood schools.

Currently, a lack of classroom space is forcing elementary children to be bused to schools that are not the closest to their homes. Part of the district's proposed renovation and construction plan that the bond issue would fund is a new fourth elementary school.

Jennell said he hopes it will accommodate new students coming into the district and allow children to attend the school closest to their homes.

"Parents ask, 'Why does it take an hour and a half for my kid to get to school?' " Jennell said. "We really need to look at that."

Jennell said all-day, every-day kindergarten is essential.

"I really believe we've got to do that," he said. "We can't do it now, because we don't have the facilities."

However, new construction, if voters approve the bond issue, would provide more room.

Jennell said he understands all-day kindergarten would be a financial burden in the beginning, but he believes it's essential to keep the district and its students academically competitive.

Goals for academic competitiveness are not restricted to younger children, though.

Jennell said the district should offer more Advanced Placement courses.

"We have to do it creatively," Jennell said.

He said courses would need to be alternated over different years so students could attend as many AP courses as possible before graduation.

The district also should provide more blended learning opportunities, he said.

"You need to have a variety of approaches with these kids," Jennell said.

In addition to listening to lectures and reading books, he said, various online and interactive learning methods also are necessary, because each student learns differently and academic programming should accommodate all of those methods.

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