The Reynoldsburg school district's innovative efforts to do more with less -- and do it well -- earned praise last week from Deb Delisle, U.S. assistant secretary of education, who called the programming "phenomenal."
Delisle, once Ohio's state school superintendent, visited Reynoldsburg to learn how the district personalizes students' learning.
She met with school leaders, who explained the district's K-12 STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) pipeline. She spoke with students in Reynoldsburg High School's career-based academies and learned about efforts to blend technology with instruction, and of partnerships with dozens of organizations that brought innovation to the classroom and helped prepare students for life after graduation.
"There's a great narrative in Reynoldsburg," Delisle said.
"There doesn't seem to be a place outside of Reynoldsburg that is doing it all together," she told district leaders. "You have a tremendous amount of synergy. It's really phenomenal."
And it was all done with fewer operating dollars and a smaller staff, Superintendent Steve Dackin said.
Delisle's visit was only the latest in what has become a regular occurrence in the district. Officials say they host at least one tour each week for educators from all over the world interested in replicating Reynoldsburg's approaches.
Recent visitors included representatives of the New York/Long Island STEM hub and a California company that provides online courses. A group from Finland, educators from a Baltimore high school and a charter-school group from New York will spend time at the Summit Road campus next month
"Reynoldsburg is rapidly becoming a national demonstration site for innovation," said Debbie Howard, chief innovation officer of EDWorks, which focuses on high-school improvement. The group has worked with the district to design its curriculum and provide technical assistance for its career academies.
Educators are drawn to the district's STEM choices for students from kindergarten through high school and to its "green" facilities on the Summit Road campus, she said.
Preliminary results on this year's state report card are an affirmation of the schools' work: The district earned an A-plus, its highest grade ever.
Dackin noted the district's efforts occurred amid budget cuts after voters repeatedly turned down levies. The district has eliminated more than $20 million in expenses since 2006, and about 59 teaching and administrative jobs were not filled. Voters OK'd the district's appeal for a levy in 2010.
"Not only do we innovate, we innovate without adding cost," Dackin said. "We're spending less money ... yet we have more opportunities for kids than we had before."
He plans to continue looking for creative ways to stay off the ballot while rethinking how to expand real-world opportunities for students, integrating technology in the classroom and offering more choices for families.
This year, the district opened its doors to students outside Reynoldsburg for the first time. More than 180 students were accepted, bringing in nearly $1 million in state aid to the district.
Dackin said technology will allow Reynoldsburg schools to better personalize lessons for students while curbing costs. firstname.lastname@example.org