The Westerville City School District enters 2014 in the midst of a strategic-planning process meant to shape what the future of the district will look like.
The district began the plan over the summer, titling it Creating 21st Century Students and determining what dimensions of the district the plan would address. More than 180 community stakeholders were called on in November to further develop the plan, and resident feedback was sought through December.
As the district moves into 2014, the hope is to finalize the plan early enough in the year to begin looking at how the plan might impact the 2014-2015 school year this fall, said Westerville Superintendent John Kellogg.
The plan could help the district determine how it will offer broader educational options to students and families, something that was a clear priority of the public during the feedback process, Kellogg said.
The district has other big issues the plan could help it face, including what to do with the sun-setting magnet school program, what to do with the now-empty Central College and Longfellow school buildings and how to further incorporate technology into classrooms, Kellogg said.
District leaders have learned a lot through the process and have come up with some interesting options to consider, Kellogg said. The balance must come in evaluating all options, addressing options in a timely fashion and making sure all options are thoroughly evaluated and considered, he said.
"We could have gone with a simple solution, but we decided to look at a variety of options," Kellogg said. "The key is not going so fast that you miss something."
While much of the conversation in recent months has centered on the strategic plan, Kellogg said the district must keep its eye in the new year on its No. 1 priority: Ensuring that students are meeting academic expectations and are prepared for new state assessments aligning with new state standards that are coming in the 2014-2015 school year.
"If we stray from that because we're chasing other things, then we've lost focus," Kellogg said.
The district has spent years instituting a new curriculum that will align with the state's new, more rigorous standards and testing.
Nonetheless, Kellogg said he anticipates an "implementation dip" when students are tested next year.
"That's where my concern lies: How is that going to affect students and create a ripple effect?" Kellogg said.
In addition to students being graded on the new standards, the district will see the complete rollout of new State Report Card at the end of next year, based on that testing.
A new evaluation system for teachers and administrators also relies on students' performance on the state evaluations.
One big decision the district will have to face in 2014 is what to do with the magnet program, Kellogg said.
The program officially was cut by the board after the failure of a levy in November 2011.
Without time to create a plan for putting all magnet-school students back into the traditional elementary school program for the following 2012-2013 school year, the board decided to close Longfellow and Central College magnet schools and move the students from those schools to Hanby and Emerson magnet schools.
No new first grade class was created, and the programs continued to operate for 2012-2013.
Last year, the board looked at realigning elementary attendance boundaries to reincorporate the magnet students into the elementary program. When the realignment was called off, the magnet schools were again allowed to operate for the 2013-2014 school year with no new students.
That means the district will need to decide what to do with the third and fourth grade students in the magnet program next year, Kellogg said.
With the exception of that decision, Kellogg said, the district will be able to take its time in looking at options presented through the planning process and to explore and evaluate them fully.
"When we start kicking over rocks, we don't know what we'll find," Kellogg said.
The district will continue to operate and plan, he said, within the guidelines of its five-year financial forecast, which shows the district can operate comfortably without additional funds through 2018.