It was a full house in Pickerington High School Central's cafeteria last week as parents, students and state and local government officials turned out to hear Superintendent Karen Mantia deliver the State of the District address for Pickerington Local Schools.

It was a full house in Pickerington High School Central's cafeteria last week as parents, students and state and local government officials turned out to hear Superintendent Karen Mantia deliver the State of the District address for Pickerington Local Schools.

The audience at the March 18 event shifted in their seats and fanned themselves, thanks to a dysfunctional cooling system that raised temperatures inside the school.

Mantia took the opportunity to remind the gathering of the importance of supporting Issue 7 on May 5. She noted the district's five oldest buildings -- Central, Ridgeview Junior High and Fairfield, Pickerington and Violet elementary schools -- would be the biggest beneficiaries if voters extend a current 0.5-mill facilities maintenance levy through 2032 because it also would make the district eligible for $50-million in state funding to upgrade and renovate the schools.

"We have the greatest chance, ladies and gentleman, to grab $50-million," she said. "You're going to pay (the facilities maintenance levy) until 2020. We're asking voters to extend that same amount 12 years."

In addition to touting the levy, Mantia said 52 percent of the district's total funding comes from the state.

She warned the audience that a proposal by Gov. Ted Strickland could have devastating effects on the local delivery of education because -- despite continued population growth -- the district could see no funding increase in 2010 and a 2-percent decrease in 2011.

While funding is a key to teaching, Mantia said, the PLSD is providing students with among the best educations in the state.

"Out of 600 schools in the state of Ohio, Pickerington is one of 74 (identified by the state) with 'Excellence with Distinction,'" she said.

Mantia noted Pickerington high schools have a 98-percent graduation rate, and 86 percent of the student body last year attained proficient, accelerated and advanced scores on standardized tests.

In addition, she said, the district is rich in diversity and advanced learning, as evidenced by the 61 different languages spoken by its students.

Those feats will continue and improve, she said, as the PLSD follows what she called its five "success riders" that require teachers, staff and administrators to remain accountable, make data-driven decisions, manage finances efficiently and effectively, communicate with parents, students and the community and foster diversity.

"Even with these results, we're still not happy," she said. " As a parent, I would want my child to be in that 100-percent (of graduates), and as parent, I would expect no less."

Mantia said the district is providing new professional training opportunities to teachers and implementing an education development program that will embed "coaches" in classrooms to evaluate how teachers educate and how students learn. From there, the district can identify areas for improvement and address specific needs of individuals through intervention.

She also said technology will play a huge role in students' learning and ability to land jobs after graduation. She noted that a "global connections committee" has been formed to help keep kids competitive through evolving education techniques and tools.

"Around here -- and I like this -- we value traditional curriculum," she said. "However, these traditional and basic courses are changing because of the way our kids retrieve information. Teachers must now adjust their strategies so students know how to discern credible and reputable information on the Web."

Mantia said the district is seeking new ways to use the Internet and other technologies not only to teach, but to communicate with parents.

These efforts include putting students' grades online and allowing parents to view their children's academic progress throughout the school year.

With respect to finances, she said PLSD spending is going down, despite a population boom that has resulted in an enrollment of more than 10,000 students. She lauded teachers and administrators for keeping per-pupil spending at $9,799, which is lower than the state average of $9,939.

"I can vouch for you that Pickerington is a place you want to send your children and grandchildren to school," Mantia said. "I'm here for you. Our lines of communication are open.

"I assure you, our work will continue."

nellis@thisweeknews.com