The following responses from each Hilliard school board candidate to four questions posed by ThisWeek are complete and unedited.
1. As the district continues to grow and student enrollment at the three high schools and middle schools become unequal, is it time for the district to consider changing attendance boundaries?
Mark Abate: It is anticipated that the Hilliard District will experience a potential increase of nearly 1000 students over the next several years. Based on projections, it is likely that this increase will most immediately impact our primary level school buildings. Because we will have the new Memorial Middle School and the additional ILC facilities, the number of “at or beyond capacity” classrooms will be reduced at the secondary level.
However, due to growth at the elementary school level, there may need to be a reassignment or redistricting of students across the district. In the near term, I believe the immediate growth can be addressed by “spot” reassignment, in which new students coming from a new development that may be near multiple elementary schools may be routed to the most logical school based on enrollment as opposed to proximity. However, in the long run, it may be very likely that a district-wide reassignment is needed depending on the location and impact of student growth.
Paul Lambert: I understand that changing attendance boundaries, particularly at the high school level, brings strife to a community. I wish that were not so, as all of our buildings offer the same excellent level of education and opportunities to our students. Nonetheless, several strategies have been employed to help avoid moving students from one track to another.
First is that the Innovative Learning Center functions as a kind of fourth high school building, providing a place to serve hundreds of our students while taking some of the pressure off Bradley, Darby and Davidson. When the new Memorial Middle School building comes online in 2018, the ILC will be expanded into what is currently the Hilliard Station Sixth Grade building (with the sixth graders moving to the current Memorial Middle School building), creating space for several hundred more students at the ILC.
We also have an increasing number of high school students participating in the College Credit Plus program, taking courses on the campuses of Ohio State and Columbus State.
Students who are not planning to attend college are encouraged to explore the opportunities at Tolles Career and Technical Center. More than 150 Hilliard students currently attend Tolles, and I hope many more take that option.
Lastly, as new housing developments are planned, the opportunity exists to assign those new neighborhoods to buildings with capacity before the first families move in, avoiding the need to change school assignments for students already in the District.
Lisa Whiting: No, I don't believe we need to consider any type of district wide redistricting. Our community supported the building of a new middle school, opening in fall, 2018. This new building will create additional seats for our middle schoolers as well as space in two of our existing buildings. The building currently known as Memorial Middle School will house our sixth graders from Hilliard Station beginning next year. The Hilliard Station building will become additional space for our Innovative Learning Center. The increased programming at this building will provide continued flexibility for our students and help distribute the students well throughout the district. We have been intentional in our design of the new building as well as the redesign of the existing buildings to create flexible learning spaces that can grow and accommodate as needed. In addition, we work closely with an outside company to monitor our growth projections in the short and long term.
Douglas "D.J." Williams (write-in): As difficult as it may be for me to say and for parents and students to hear, I believe it is time to consider and begin discussing attendance boundaries in the district across the board including the elementary level not just the middle and high school levels. I recently spoke with a teacher from one of the elementary schools who said 100 kindergarteners just enrolled at just the school where she teaches for this current school year alone which I found alarming. Yes, input should be given and received from the community, parents and educators to devise the best plans to move forward with. I would begin with a committee of educators and parents to come up with different options first and then let the community as a whole review the different options and provide input until a consensus can be reached. This will take some time and we don't want to rush into anything so the sooner we can begin the better.
2. The district administration has been consistent in its message that the result of the Ohio Department of Education's state report cards will not define the district. Despite the recent low marks in some categories, district officials say the report cards are moving targets and provide only a “snapshot” of some metrics. How important or accurate do you consider the state report cards in measuring the district's quality?
Abate: The state report cards should not define the district. I agree that these tests and report cards are snapshots of performance at any given time and are moving targets, as the tests themselves and what they are attempting to measure is changed frequently. These “snapshot” tests cannot comprehensively represent the realities of daily, weekly, or yearly learning and growth of our students.
In my opinion, the true measure of the quality of a school district is the growth that is experienced in (and out of) the classroom by each student in their own journey. The fact that a district may have a large population of underprivileged students, ESL learners, or students with disabilities should not be considered as a penalty for any given district. Every student is going to learn at their own pace and in their own way, which is why I believe the strategy in Hilliard of “voice and choice” and addressing the “whole” child is what will best serve students in their journey through their education and beyond.
Lambert: Parents and taxpayers have two primary questions: “Where do I want my kids to attend school?” and “Is my tax money being used effectively?” The State Report Card is not a particularly effective tool for answering either question.
This is why Hilliard Schools also publishes our Quality Profile – to assure Hilliard parents and Hilliard taxpayers that our primary mission is not to score well on tests of debatable value, but rather to prepare our children to succeed in a rapidly evolving future.
Perhaps the best measure of the quality of our schools is the continued demand for more housing in our community. Families move here and stay here because they are confident about the quality of Hilliard Schools based on what they learn from parents, students and graduates. To paraphrase others, Hilliard Schools passes the “gate test” – many more are trying to get in than to get out.
That doesn’t mean we ignore the State Report Cards. On the contrary, continuous improvement is one of the core values of our District. The State Report Cards provide one set of data, but only one.
Whiting: I believe that the State Report card is one method used to measure student growth. While we won’t be satisfied with our scores until we are number one, I believe that the Ohio Department of Education continues to strive to develop an adequate tool that efficiently measures student growth in over 600 public school systems in Ohio. This is a challenging task. As a district we continue to work towards improving our scores on the report card and we will continue those efforts. We will also provide any input necessary to the state to help create a meaningful tool that can help communities understand the successes and possible weaknesses of school districts. We measure student growth and success in many ways and we are committed to preparing our students for the future.
Williams: I do not like the state report card system as it is now. It is only a snapshot of some aspects of the district and doesn't fairly provide the whole picture. The state keeps providing results which the district does its best to make adjustments for and then the state changes the rules and "moves the goal posts" so the district has a hard time ever achieving the goals provided. I, therefore, do not agree with the report cards being completely accurate and we should see and accept them for what they truly are, a "snapshot"
3. In your opinion, what is the most critical issue the district faces in 2018 and beyond?
Abate: I believe there are really two issues that are most critical for the Hilliard School District. The issues are intrinsically connected. In the near future, the two most pressing issues will be growth of the student population and state funding – neither of which the district has any ability to control.
Growth will have significant impact on all aspects of the district. From busing needs to school capacity to staffing needs, a significant influx of students will create issues that cannot be resolved without well-thought-out strategy. This strategy will need to be established with input from all stakeholders within the district – staff, administration, parents, and community members alike.
The second critical issue is funding. Whether it is due to new residential development being approved utilizing TIF agreements, the impact of charter schools, or state funding becoming less robust, funding our district’s operations becomes more difficult and more of a burden on the community. Thankfully, the Hilliard School District has been consistently incredible at effectively managing our finances, creatively reorganizing how funds are used, and finding grant money to continue the innovations that allow the district to provide excellent educational opportunities for our students.
I believe with the vision and leadership of the school board and school administration, Hilliard will overcome these challenges in the coming years.
Lambert: Clearly it is how we will fund the cost of our growing district. We currently spend $11,338 per student to operate our schools, and receive $4,127 of that from State funding. That means the rest has to be raised locally via our property taxes. A new residence housing one new student needs to be valued at more than $370,000 to generate the $7,000 in local funding necessary for that one student.
The best way to solve this funding problem is to slow the pace of residential development until we have much more new commercial development to help pay for the cost of all our public services, including schools, police, Fire/EMS and streets. There is certainly no need to annex more land simply to build more houses.
If residential development is allowed to continue without this commercial balance, the tax burden on the existing homeowners and businesses in our community will become increasingly difficult to bear.
Whiting: The most critical issue facing education today and into the future is remaining current, relevant and intentional about preparing our children for an ever-changing future, while maintaining fiscal accountability with our tax dollars.
Williams: Overcrowding and funding. We need to address the district boundaries as I spoke to above and we also need to work more with city leaders in discussing residential developments which seem to be going up everywhere and how they affect the district. We also need to look at funding of the district and, as necessary, try to find ways to fund the district operations without taxing residents out of their means. We need to keep in mind how diverse the district is and how we can keep funding the school district at the levels we currently have.
4. What else would you like to say to voters?
Abate: I am excited at the prospect of being on the Hilliard School Board. I have been in the Hilliard City School District since 1989. As a product of Hilliard Schools myself (graduating from Hilliard High School in 1995), I am honored to have the opportunity to give back to the district and its students in a significant way.
Over the past 10 years, I have been involved with a variety of district committees, working closely with administration and other board members. Some of these committees have included:
• Treasurer for Community Partnership for Education Levy Campaign
• HCSD Educational Adequacy & Facilities Condition Assessment Committee
• Education Advisory Committee for Hilliard City School District
• Community Partnership for Education Levy Fundraising Chair
• HCSD Finance Audit & Accountability Committee
• HCSD Student Housing and Redistricting Committees
Through these experiences, I have a learned a great deal about various aspects of the governance and execution of our district’s policies and procedures. Additionally, I have built great working relationships with district administration, staff, board members, and other community members.
Personally, I have a vested interest in the continued excellence of the Hilliard School District. I have two daughters in the Hilliard Schools – one in sixth grade at Hilliard Station and one in third grade at Darby Creek Elementary. Having been involved in classroom activities has given me an appreciation for the great work our teachers across the district do. My wife also teaches at Hilliard Bradley High School (and Hilliard Darby High School before that). Through her and many other friends that are teachers or guidance counselors in our district, I have again seen the hard work and amazing opportunities that these teachers provide for the students of Hilliard.
My variety of experience within the district gives me a great launching pad to be a productive and effective member of the Hilliard School Board. I am eager to continue to work with administration, staff, and community toward providing top-notch learning opportunities for our students.
Lambert: In 2015, I joined City Councilman Les Carrier, School Board Member Andy Teater, Norwich Township Trustees Chuck Buck and Larry Earman, plus a number of community leaders to form Keep Hilliard Beautiful. Our first effort was to bring Issue 9 to the voters. Issue 9 proposed to amend the City Charter to prohibit the City Council from modifying zoning by emergency action, and from enacting Tax Increment Financing deals on residential developments. In response, the majority of City Council attempted to block this effort. KHB took our case to the Ohio Supreme Court and won a unanimous decision ordering the City Council to forward the issue to the Board of Elections for placement on the ballot. The voters overwhelmingly supported Issue 9, with 72% voting Yes.
I am honored to have been twice elected to represent our community on our School Board, and ask that you grant me the opportunity to continue the fight to keep our schools great and our community affordable.
Whiting: I am proud to have served our community as a member of the Hilliard Board of Education for the past ten years. My decision to run for reelection to the school board is based on a strong desire to continue the excellence of our schools. We have a long-standing history of providing high quality education for the students of this community and preparing them for the future. Communication, sound financial oversight and accountability are a daily part of being a school board member. In today’s ever-changing society, it is critical for us to stay well informed about funding changes, technology updates, curriculum changes, facility improvements, student safety concerns as well as human resource issues, including labor relations. I am eager to continue to contribute my time and talents in all these ways. I hope I can count on your vote on November 7, 2017.
Williams: I am a 1993 graduate of the Hilliard School District. I attended Hilliard Schools for all of my primary and secondary education so I know how wonderful this district is first hand. I have a niece that currently is a student at Norwich Elementary School. I have volunteered in the past at both Hilliard Darby High School in the theater department and Hilliard Tharp Sixth Grade School. I want to be the arts advocate on the board. Having enjoyed theater and choir activities while attending Hilliard schools I want to see them and all of the arts continue to thrive and be an integral part and live in harmony with all of our students' education. I want to work with the community to find ways to create attendance boundaries that we can all agree upon at all levels of the district. We have a great and diverse district that I want to be a part of continuing to build upon as we go into the future together. We know how great the district is in athletics, music, art, theater, and academics with the number of scholarships awarded to graduating students every year. Now it's time to make sure that continues and that we build upon that success. I would appreciate your consideration and your write-in vote for Douglas Williams on November 7th!