Pickerington Local Schools again saw standout achievement among students and moves to solidify the district's leadership in 2013.
The year that has been was, in many ways, a year of transition for the Pickerington Local School district, as its school board, administrators and teachers sought to implement new curriculum to better prepare students for life after high school and adjust to new state achievement standards.
Amidst those ongoing initiatives, students in the district pulled off numerous noteworthy feats in and out of the classroom, a school board election proved too close to call and the board shored up three key administrative posts.
Here are some of the top school-related stories that took place within the Pickerington Local School District in 2013:
State report card
After receiving the state's highest marks in four of the past five years, the district saw mixed results under the Ohio Department of Education's new grading system.
According to the report issued Aug. 22, the district earned three A's, two B's and four C's under the state's new nine-letter-grade system for student performance in the 2012-13 school year.
The district received A's for meeting 24 of 24 state standards, and received high marks for student graduation and fourth-grade through eighth-grade math and reading growth.
However, the district earned C's for value-added growth among its gifted students and disabled students, respectively.
It also earned C's for growth among its students learning at the lowest 20 percent within the district and for its "annual measurable objectives," which grades districts on their ability to teach students in different subgroups.
In June, the Pickerington School Board approved Superintendent Rob Walker's request to retire from the district for one day and then be rehired.
The action came at Walker's request and ahead of changes in the State Teachers Retirement System of Ohio's pension plan policy, which would have reduced the amount of money the superintendent would have been eligible to collect from his pension had he not retired before June 30.
By staying with the district, Walker also was able to retain his $135,000 annual salary and an additional $75,498 in benefits compensation for things such as health insurance and vehicle allowances.
At the time, he noted it was less than the $144,000 annual salary and $63,492 in employee benefits previous district Superintendent Karen Mantia received prior to resigning.
In other administrative moves, the board tapped Bob Blackburn, the district's former special education director, to become full-time assistant superintendent, and Ryan Jenkins was hired to serve as district treasurer.
Blackburn, who had served the previous two school years as interim-assistant superintendent, was given a two-year contract.
It will pay him an annual base salary of $113,643, plus an additional $50,138 in yearly benefits compensation.
Jenkins last April was given a four-month "bridge contract" before a new, three-year contract went into effect Aug. 1.
He replaced former Treasurer Dan Griscom, who retired Feb. 1.
Jenkins was given an annual base salary of $117,000.
The number of district students who accomplished noteworthy feats in 2013 was vast, but here's a sampling:
* Alex Rickrich of Central's class of '13 received a $10,000 scholarship through Warner Brothers' Reach program, which helped her enroll in the Savannah College of Art and Design and provided her with a full-time summer internship at the Warner Bros. Animation Department in Burbank, Calif.
She was the only graduating senior in the U.S. to receive the award.
* Molly Frey last spring was selected by national nonprofit Our Military Kids as "Military Kid of the Year" last spring, during her seventh-grade year at Lakeview Junior High.
She was recognized for her ballet and sailing skills, as well as efforts to raise money for breast cancer awareness, and was treated with a trip to Washington, D.C., and a $500 grant that enabled her to attend BalletMet's Summer Intensive Program.
* Nick Stanley, another member of Central's class of 2013, earned a composite score of 36 on the ACT, a national college admissions examination which consists of subject area tests in English, mathematics, reading and science.
* Pamela Pizarro-Ruiz and Noah Ratcliff, both juniors this year at Central, took top honors out of 4,000 prototypes entered in the 2013 National STEM Video Game Challenge, conducted by the New York City-based Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop and E-Line Media.
Harman named 'Teacher of Year'
In May, Tammy Harman, an intervention specialist at Toll Gate Middle School, was named "Teacher of the Year" for 2012-13.
Harman, who was honored during her 13th year with the district, was nominated for the award by her peers and selected as the district's top teacher based on a points system by committees for respective school buildings.
Each building teacher of the year then becomes a candidate for the district teacher of the year.
The winner is selected by an eight-person committee, which consists of a district office administrator, one building principal in the district, two teachers, one parent, one Pickerington School Board member, one support services employee and one county office representative.
Crash claims student's life
Tragedy struck in the district after Jacob E. Jolly, a 16-year-old who had just completed his sophomore year at Pickerington High School Central, died in a single-vehicle crash on Wright Road June 28.
According to the Ohio State Highway Patrol, Jolly was killed after his vehicle left the roadway and struck a utility pole. He had obtained his driver's license the previous morning.
"It is with great sorrow that I share with you that we lost a great young man in a car accident earlier today," PHS Central Principal Zach Howard said in a statement.
"Jacob Jolly recently completed 10th grade at Pickerington High School Central," Howard said.
"He was an outstanding student and vital member of the choir and school community. ... The entire Pickerington Local School District community extends its heartfelt sympathy to the Jolly family."
Another potentially sad story took an inspirational tone after Ridgeview Junior High School students and staff, as well as others in the district, threw their support behind Ridgeview Principal Susan Caudill, who underwent a double mastectomy Nov. 14.
Close to 700 students and staff members at Ridgeview and many others in the district sought to boost Caudill's spirits by holding a pep rally and sporting "Team Caudill" T-shirts two weeks prior to her surgery to combat breast cancer.
Caudill, 42, responded by telling ThisWeek Pickerington Times-Sun, "It's all good. (Cancer) messed with the wrong person."
An automatic recount of the Nov. 5 election confirmed Cathy Olshefski won a final seat on the Pickerington School Board by a four-vote margin.
Olshefski won her second term on the board by narrowly defeating fellow incumbent Clay Lopez by a count of 2,116 to 2,112.
The election also propelled Lori Sanders to her fifth term on the board, and Vanessa Niekamp was elected to her first term, which will begin in January.
Pickerington School Board members and PLSD officials will continue a discussion on proposed redistricting options for K-6 students into 2014 after a series of discussions in fall and winter of 2013.
The district must redraw attendance boundaries for K-6 students to ease overcrowding at Sycamore Creek Elementary and Pickerington Elementary, according to board and district officials.
Additionally, those officials are seeking to find a more permanent home for the Pickerington Learning Steps Preschool, which currently is housed in portable, module classrooms outside of Diley Middle School.
Those discussions are expected to resume in either January or February.
In response to concerns raised by parents over the district's possible elimination of honors classes at the high school and junior high levels, PLSD Superintendent Rob Walker in February said no such action will be taken next school year, or in the near future.
Rather, the district's superintendent said honors courses would be worked into curriculum to enhance the new "Common Core" academic standards which will be implemented by state mandate for the 2013-14, and which are designed to better prepare students for college and careers after high school.
"There is no change to our honors courses next year or in the foreseeable future," Walker said.
No longer in cutback mode, District Treasurer Jenkins announced in October that the district's finances were "very sustainable" for the near future.
Although the current funding levels from the state legislature only bring the district back to pace with what it received in 2009, Jenkins said the new formula, coupled with the district's share of casino revenues and the spending plans developed by the school board and district administrators, means the district should be "very sustainable" for at least the next three years.
The news came after the Pickerington School Board in August approved the first base salary increase for teachers since the 2010-11 school year.
That contract teachers gave teachers a 2.5-percent increases to their base salaries for the 2013-14 school year.
The teachers also negotiated 2.25-percent base salary increases for the 2014-15 school year, and each full-time teacher in the district will receive a one-time $300 stipend in 2014-15 as recognition of their efforts to further professional learning and development they've undergone in recent years to keep pace with changing state education and student-growth standards.