Reynoldsburg City Schools continued key collaborations to encourage dual high school and college enrollment and expanded science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs in 2013.
The district also grappled with new state report card requirements and unfunded state mandates, including a new teacher evaluation system.
Tragedy struck in late fall, though, when a young girl's body was found behind the high school campus on Summit Road.
Superintendent Steve Dackin, who recently announced he will retire in July 2014, said 2013 was a year of successful partnerships.
"Our STEM programming expanded significantly," he said. "Baldwin (Road) Junior High School was officially recognized by the state of Ohio as a STEM platform school and Herbert Mills Elementary was reinvented as a STEM-focused elementary school."
The district also collaborated with Columbus State Community College and Mount Carmel Health System to encourage students to earn college credit while still in high school.
"We've more than doubled the number of students taking college classes since last year, to more than 400 students," Dackin said. "Our partnership with Columbus State and our development of the BELL Early College Academy has made that possible.
"January's opening of Columbus State Reynoldsburg Regional Learning Center was not only one of the most important events in 2013, it was one of the most important events of my career," he said. "I had long dreamed of the possibilities of sharing space between a high school and college.
"Add to that our partnership with Mount Carmel and a handful of other health and wellness service providers and we have a pretty dynamic place set up to meet students' needs."
Dackin said other partnerships include one with eSchoolView, a company hosting the district website and whose employees are teaching students how to write computer code.
The Learning Accelerator (TLA) is another partner, dedicated to advancing practices related to blended learning.
"TLA is helping us assess and improve our technology infrastructure, find ways to get the most bang for our buck with digital purchases and to think through other challenges, such as professional development and recruitment of staff to increase our capacity for blended learning," he said.
The district continued partnerships with Battelle for Kids, the Granville Studio of Visual Arts and BalletMet Columbus.
New Regional Learning Center
The district partnership with Columbus State Community College created the Columbus State Regional Learning Center, which opened to fill 18 classrooms within Reynoldsburg BELL Academy in January.
The space includes six "smart" classrooms equipped with DVD and Internet access, specialized software, LCD projectors and screens; and two science laboratories and simulated patient-care areas for medical and health profession classes.
The learning center's new courses allow students to dual-enroll in both high school and college and potentially graduate with an associate degree.
Columbus State paid $1 million for renovations at BELL for the learning center and the district paid $1.6 million. According to the agreement, Columbus State may operate the learning center rent-free with no utility costs, in return for offering students college classes at a reduced rate of $25 a credit hour.
Reynoldsburg schools earned national acclaim when the district was named as one of three "model high schools" in President Barack Obama's plan to redesign the nation's high schools.
The other two high schools were Pathways in Technology Early College High School in Brooklyn, N.Y., and Loving High School in New Mexico.
Dackin traveled to Washington, D.C., in July to meet with senior White House officials as the only Ohio representative to the Digital Promise League of Innovative Schools. He said Digital Promise was launched by the White House in 2011 as a national center for research and development in education technology.
The new five-year financial forecast projected a positive general fund balance through 2018. District Treasurer Tami Miller said voters were promised a positive general fund balance through 2014 after they approved a 9.9-mill incremental operating levy in 2010. She said a number of factors contributed to the improved financial outlook, including increasing the number of open enrollment students. She said the district received $1 million this year and estimates revenue of $2.3 million through 2018 from open enrollment.
Dackin said during his State of the Schools address in February that he'd like the district to try to stay off the ballot for a total of 10 years.
When is a school library not just a library? When it's a STEM Museum and Living Library.
Battelle Memorial Institute gave the district $50,000 to help develop the Living Library Museum at Summit Road STEM Elementary School. The library not only houses collectibles that illustrate popular children's books, but displays objects such as old telegraph machines, phone booths and telephones and shows the progress to more modern technology, such as computers and smartphones.
Battelle also helped the district build a "Fab Lab" at eSTEM Academy, contributing $40,000 to fund the lab, which had its grand opening in November. The Fab Lab allows students to use 3-D printers, laser cutters and large-format printers for rapid prototyping and design.
State report card, teacher scandal
The district scored an A for meeting all 24 standards on the state report card in August, but earned lower scores on some of the new components, including a B for Performance Index; a C for progress of disabled students; and a D for progress of gifted students. Overall in valued-added progress, however, the district earned an A.
Dackin said he welcomed more stringent report card requirements because all districts must "raise the bar for students" and look at new strategies to help students succeed.
Some other new requirements, though, including a new teacher evaluation system, based on student progress, may have prompted a Waggoner Road Middle School teacher to allegedly commit an ethics violation.
Heather Campbell, a second-year middle school teacher, allegedly encouraged fifth-graders to flunk a science pretest by drawing pictures and not answering questions so that a subsequent test would show student progress.
The teacher resigned before the district took any disciplinary action, but school officials said her teaching license could be in jeopardy. Dackin called her alleged actions "an egregious violation ... of ethical responsibility."
Murder behind high school
Tragedy struck near Thanksgiving, when a man walking his dog found the body of 18-year-old Danielle Michaels near Reynoldsburg High School's Summit Road campus.
Reynoldsburg police arrested Blacklick resident Adrian McGee, 17, on murder charges, after he confessed to throwing a knife at the girl. He was later charged with murder, aggravated murder, rape, kidnapping and tampering with evidence and is scheduled to be tried as an adult on the first two charges.
Michaels had been taking Reynoldsburg classes online and McGee is a student at Eastland Career Center.
Straight A Fund
The district received good news at the end of the year, as the state awarded $14.4 million to the Pathway to Prosperity Network. Reynoldsburg leads the collaboration of 12 school districts, which includes Upper Arlington, Columbus, Olentangy and Whitehall, that work with Columbus State Community College and Battelle for Kids to expand opportunities for students to earn college credit.
The collaboration is also designed to encourage student internships and workplace experience.