Increasing student achievement, meeting the state's demands and implementing innovative new programming are among the top goals of Whitehall City School District officials as they ring in the new year.
With students back in school next week, teachers and administrators in Whitehall will return to their daily schedules. But district leaders said keeping an eye on key goals for the year is far from routine.
"Student achievement will always be our top priority and the forefront of our thinking," said district Superintendent Brian Hamler, on the job for about six months now. "Our staff will continue targeted instruction guided by our formative assessments."
With new requirements by the state under the Third-Grade Reading Guarantee this year, student achievement has taken on a whole new meaning. Walter Armes, school board president, said it's the district's priority to "attack" the initiative with vigor and get students past the state benchmark so they can move on to fourth grade.
More than a third of Whitehall's third-graders failed the state reading test this fall, which means they could be held back if they don't improve their scores in the spring.
Intense remediation already is underway for students who did not meet the state benchmark for the fall reading test. Hamler also has said third-grade reading retention could take on a whole new look -- meaning students could be placed in a multiage classroom to begin fourth-grade work as they continue to receive intense reading intervention.
Both Hamler and Armes said they are excited to sink their teeth into a new multimillion-dollar project being spearheaded by the state that will help students prepare for the working world.
"Through our participation in a central Ohio consortium of more than a dozen school districts, we hope to expand the career pathways for our students," said Hamler. "It is our hope that we increase the relevancy of a student's senior year and increase the number of our students who obtain a post-secondary degree or credential."
The $250 million Straight A Fund was created within the new state budget signed last summer by Gov. John Kasich. In all, 420 organizations have submitted 570 applications to be considered for funds to improve achievement and increase efficiency.
The goal, said Hamler, is to produce a greater number of employable graduates with the skills and knowledge to enter a college or university without remediation or enter a profession in central Ohio.
"This is an exciting project," Armes said.
Productive contract negotiations also will be a top priority this year, both Hamler and Armes agreed.
"We will be entering into negotiations with all three of our associations this spring," Hamler said. "It is our hope that through a collaborative effort we will develop new collective bargaining agreements that strengthen our organization."
Staff members have not had a raise in two years in an effort to solidify district finances.
"I don't think we can expect them to go a third year without one though," said Armes.
He anticipated the district's good relationship with its unions to continue into the negotiating process.
Planning for next school year's staffing needs also will be an early priority, said Hamler.
"This will include projecting and balancing our enrollment at each building and assigning the necessary staff to deliver the instruction and programs needed for a successful 2014-15 school year," he said.
Armes said the district also will have its eye on improving state test scores beyond the Third-Grade Reading Guarantee to include all other students. Hamler has set a goal to meet 12 of the 24 indicators on the new State Report Card. Whitehall met only eight of the 24 testing benchmarks last year, earning it an F grade in that area.
"That's going to be a challenge," said Armes. "We still have the issue of poverty, and studies show that poverty is not positive for education."