Heading into the 2017-18 school year, the Pickerington Local School District has a new superintendent but will maintain a similar class schedule and strategies for student and staff development as in recent years.

Last month, Chris Briggs took over as superintendent, replacing Valerie Browning-Thompson, who had held the post since August 2014.

Although Briggs brings 26 years of education experience to the district, including serving as superintendent of the Northridge Local School District in Licking County since 2013, he doesn't plan to implement sweeping changes in his first year.

"I have to say, I've been very impressed with what I've seen," Briggs said. "Our facilities are in great shape; the staff is dedicated and enthusiastic; and the students and teachers have the resources they need to provide a great education.

"I think the top objective is to continue the work we've started here with the strategic planning, particularly as it relates to academics, finances, and operations. My objective is to get into the district and build some relationships with our community and our staff and our students. I want to familiarize myself with some of the strengths of the district, as well as some of the challenges we may face."

One of the top strategies Briggs is excited about is the full implementation of the district's "One2One" technology program that provided Dell Chromebooks 11 to all fifth- and sixth-graders in 2016-17, as well as Apple iPad minis to each student at Pickerington and Violet elementary schools.

This month, the rest of the district's students also will receive computer tablets, a plan that initially was expected to take six years.

One2One proponents, including PLSD Director of Instructional Technology Brian Seymour, said the computers not only allow students to complete classroom lessons, but they also encourage independent research and other learning.

"After numerous classroom visits with teachers, administrators and (Pickerington) Board of Education members, we decided to speed up the process of going One2One," Seymour said. "We want to give all of our students that same engaging, personalized instruction that we saw starting to happen in the middle schools last year."

In addition to technology integration and maintaining the use of "best practices" for delivering education, as spelled out by the Ohio Department of Education, the district this year again will schedule two-hour delays to the start of the school days once during every month, with the exception of August and January.

During the scheduled delays, teachers will receive "professional development" training and discuss existing or new practices for delivering classroom education.

"Having these opportunities for our teachers to get together as schools, departments (and) teaching teams is incredibly beneficial to allow for planning, professional growth, learning about new technology and teaching techniques and teaming," said David Ball, PLSD public relations director. "In other professional office environments, there typically are opportunities for group meetings.

"Teachers don't have that ability, because they spend their time in the classrooms, and during their individual planning periods other teachers are in their classrooms. Ultimately, these opportunities make teachers better teachers and help them give their students better learning opportunities."

As for the school year, it will mirror last year, Ball said.

The first day of school for students in grades 1-12 is Aug. 16, and kindergarteners will begin classes Aug. 22.

Thanksgiving break will be held Nov. 22-24, winter break will be Dec. 22-Jan. 8 and spring break will be March 26-30.

The last day of classes will be May 25, and graduation is slated for May 26.

In the meantime, Briggs said he'll continue to make the rounds in PLSD buildings and throughout the community to familiarize himself with students, staff, parents and other residents.

He said the district also will continue monitor the number of students in each building, as well as enrollment projections to position students and teachers for success.

"One of the biggest challenges we face at the beginning of every school year is managing enrollment in our buildings," he said. "We know we'll need to keep an eye on current enrollment, as well as long-term enrollment projections.

"The number of students who attend school in any particular year is not static. There are ebbs and flows, which means we always start the year trying to balance building enrollment and class sizes."

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