New year, new challenges
District's focus is to keep 'kids moving in a positive direction'
With so much growth and change on the horizon in Whitehall, district leaders have set a number of goals for 2013.
Buildings that are too small for the district's current enrollment, the search for a new superintendent, the final phase of a major construction project, unknowns at the state level and the continued safety of the students are all the focus of Whitehall school officials as the new year begins.
"Keeping the kids moving in a positive direction" is Whitehall's No. 1 goal, board president Walter Armes said. "Hopefully, we can continue to see the growth that we've seen in the past several years."
After years of due diligence, the district received an "effective" rating on its state report card in 2012, reflecting the progress students have made despite a number of challenges -- namely a very mobile population and a growing English as a Second Language population.
"With the progress at both the city and the schools, I think that the future looks very bright for Whitehall," Superintendent Judyth Dobbert-Meloy said.
She has been leading the charge for more than a decade and will retire in the summer.
Armes said the board's continued search for a new superintendent -- and finding a good match -- is paramount to Whitehall's continued success. That search is ongoing and is being coordinated by the Ohio School Boards Association.
"That's a huge situation," Armes said, "to make sure we pick the right one."
Dobbert-Meloy said she hopes to make the transition a smooth one.
"These next few months are going to go by quickly, and I want to make sure that there is a smooth transition for my successor into the district," she said. "I have been very blessed to have had this opportunity in Whitehall. It has been a great experience, and I do feel that I will leave things in good shape."
Completing the final phase of the district's $78 million construction plan also is significant on the district's radar, Armes and Dobbert-Meloy said. Recently, though, a monkey wrench thrown into the process has caused the district to pause.
With an influx of some 300 students among Whitehall's three elementary schools this fall, enrollment numbers are up, making for some tight classrooms. The district has had to make adjustments, like sending students to schools other than their own neighborhood school, thus upsetting parents and children.
Just last month, the Ohio School Facilities Commission, now the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission, admitted that it had goofed, planning for a lower enrollment despite warnings from Dobbert-Meloy and others. But the commission is willing to help and make things right by aiding the district in adding on to its new buildings to accommodate more students.
"I would like to have that well in hand so that the new superintendent can come in and make sure that things get completed as quickly and smoothly as possible," Dobbert-Meloy said.
Because the current project is well-under budget, Dobbert-Meloy told board members last month that the savings could be used to cover the cost of the $3.2 million additions -- however they might look -- while leaving earned interest funds earmarked for the high school untouched.
Armes said getting a jump on the situation in an effort to allow for the least disruption to students and learning is a major goal this year.
November elections also will be the focus of at least three board members, Armes said. The two-year unexpired seat held by board member Brandon Howard, along with the seats of veteran board members Blythe Wood and Armes, will be up for grabs in November.
Finally, Armes said, the district will look closely at its security measures following the tragic events at Connecticut's Sandy Hook Elementary School in December.
"Our current procedures are pretty good," Armes said. "I feel confident that we have good security (measures) in place."
He acknowledged that the recent tragedy gives any district pause and the opportunity to examine protocol while looking for areas of development and improvement.