Upper Arlington City Schools saw a year of accomplishment, significant change and some tough losses in 2012.
The district said goodbye in May to Upper Arlington High School Principal Kip Greenhill, who had the longest tenure of any principal in Franklin County. He served 17 years as principal in Upper Arlington and nine years as a principal at Bexley High School. Assistant Principal Emilie Greenwald moved into the top spot at the high school.
The state report card brought welcome news in October: The district had achieved an "excellent with distinction" rating, marking 12 straight years of earning the state's highest rating.
Also in the fall, though, came news that a newly formed citizen group, Educate UA, opposed the district's 5.8-mill levy request. School leaders said they hoped voters would recognize the need to maintain quality programming, but the operating levy failed at the ballot box on Nov. 6.
As 2012 drew to a close, parents, staff members and students mourned the sudden loss on Nov. 29 of Barrington Elementary School teacher Megan Fedorko, who was also the mother of two young children.
Superintendent Jeffrey Weaver, school board President Robin Comfort and board members Robert Arkin, Marjory Pizzuti, Nancy Drees and Stacey Royer said 2012 had many highlights.
"Our students and staff continued to achieve and perform at the highest levels academically and in athletics, music, the arts and through many clubs and activities," Weaver said. "One area of particular note was in service learning, where our staff and students are without peer as they devote tens of thousands of hours to the service and betterment of our community, state, nation and world."
Comfort said she likes to think of her life experiences as stitching on a tapestry.
"Without a doubt, 2012 will be a bold color on my tapestry, as it was my first term as school board president," she said. "Personal highlights that come to mind were service learning projects at Jones and Hastings."
She said each grade at Hastings Middle School focused on some kind of service on HOP Day, including eighth-graders acting as companions at a retirement center, but she was most struck by the words of Upper Arlington High School senior Ashley Williams as she spoke to Hastings students.
"She had many stories to tell, but one remarkable one was a result of going to a world food conference, where she was able to share her research on sustainable agriculture with the president of Kenya," Comfort said. "She has continued to pursue opportunities to help others, including making necklaces to raise funds for an orphanage in Bolivia. How impressive is it that a high school senior has a global view of world food issues and is investing her time, talents and knowledge to help."
Comfort said Jones Middle School students raised money to help provide soccer balls and shoes for an orphanage in Swaziland and had the opportunity to hear Ruby Bridges speak about civil rights. As a young girl, Bridges was depicted in a Norman Rockwell painting as she was escorted to a New Orleans school by two marshals, because she was the only black student in the school.
"This was living history and our students experienced it with her," Comfort said.
She said another highlight was Wickliffe Progressive School's live link to NASA and the International Space Station, when students chatted with astronaut Sunita Williams. Wickliffe was one of six schools across the nation selected for the live link.
"This was certainly a lifetime opportunity and one I will remember forever," Comfort said.
Arkin said SAT and ACT scores were at an all-time high at the high school, 10 more teachers achieved "Master Teacher" distinction and the district made a number of energy improvements to buildings through House Bill 264.
"We have seen gifted leaders leave the district to retire, or to pursue further education opportunities, but each time we have attracted excellent young leaders who are following in their footsteps," he said. "It takes a long time to build a culture where these transitions are seamless, but we have that in UA schools. This sort of excellence-breeds-excellence tradition is what made the schools great years ago and it is what keeps the strength now and in the future."
Arkin said 2012 will also be the "levy failure" year.
"School finance is hard to understand, even more difficult to explain, but we learned we need to do a more thorough job of describing what we do, why it is done that way and why it is a good investment to strive for excellence in all facets," he said. "The schools are part of the fabric of our community and no one wants to see that fabric fray."
Pizzuti said the district "continued to deliver a world class education." She said 12 students were awarded National Merit scholarships; test scores improved at all levels and the district continued to offer opportunities for students in Advanced Placement, music, the arts, athletics and service learning.
"We want to assure that our students understand the importance of giving back and paying forward as citizens of the future," she said.
She said prudent financial decisions allowed the district to stretch a three-year levy to five years by freezing teacher and administrator salaries; changing health care providers for lower premiums; increasing employees' share of healthcare premiums; joining a central Ohio consortium to lower utility bills; becoming self-insured to reduce workers' compensation costs and "continuing to keep administrative overhead to 9.1 percent, the lowest of any school district in Franklin County."
Drees said "massive instructional change" in public education was a challenge in 2012. The district had to meet new performance indicators and assessments and had to rewrite courses of study in math, language arts and social studies because of the Common Core state standards.
The district also had to incorporate Race to the Top reform, the third-grade reading guarantee, 21st-century skills and International Baccalaureate certification for the Middle Years Program Partnership at Jones, Hastings and the high school.
She said incorporating state mandates goes "far beyond the community's knowledge of what it takes to be a school rated excellent with distinction."
Drees also attended the 2012 Arnold Sports Film Festival.
"Typically, a parent relishes the spotlight for their child," she said. "Not having a child in the event, I experienced an incredible feeling because suddenly, every student honored at the film festival was mine. To see the joy on their faces, to witness the pride of their parents was absolutely fulfilling to me."
Another highlight was learning 10 Greensview Elementary School students won the Ohio Math League competition, she said.
Royer said the Common Core integration process was impressive.
"I was a part of the K-5 Common Core math team, which would meet once a month for eight hours at a time," she said. "I was absolutely amazed at the commitment the teachers on this committee made. These teachers thoroughly examined every option available and would not commit to a program until they were absolutely sure that it met the requirements to educate all of our students."
Royer also participated in the language arts Common Core process.
"I was again struck by the diligence, seriousness and extreme commitment to the task at hand that these teachers have demonstrated," she said.
With the defeat of the levy and other losses, "2012 brought with it the good and the bad, the sweet and the bitter," Royer said.