Leaders at Reynoldsburg City Schools are leaping into 2018 with fresh ideas for ongoing issues and a long list of improvements they hope to implement this year and beyond.

Student choice, five-year plan

Superintendent Melvin Brown said "a major hurdle" for the district is in creating opportunities in elementary and middle school that mimic experiences students have at the high school academies.

"We want kids to make choices based on their genuine interests and strengths and not due to factors that are not academic, career-oriented or growth-affiliated," he said. "We can do this by presenting them with problem-based learning approaches, which give them authentic, applicable, real-world scenarios in which to collaborate and innovate to solve problems."

A major item on Brown's wish list is a five-year strategic plan.

"We want to take a very comprehensive and holistic approach to creating a five-year strategic plan, to galvanize our entire city as a means of improving opportunities for both students and adults," he said.

He said he also hopes to expand arts programs, including music, visual and performance arts, and career and technical programs.

"Many of our students have strengths in these areas, and creating these opportunities will allow them to excel and to perform even more successfully in their core academic programs," Brown said. "We want our students to feel a sense of ownership and belonging in our schools."

Enrollment growth, academics, well-being

Board President Joe Begeny said student enrollment has increased by 300 students over the past year.

"We must take steps so our students will get the best education they can get," he said. "We are on top of this issue already, but it is worth keeping an eye on. This includes looking at our academy structure and the Livingston-campus support for the future."

District finances are in great shape, he said, but student academic progress needs improvement.

He said he wants to look at state testing, reduce district testing and stay on top of students' social issues, including bullying.

"We need options for students that allow the most flexibility for their classes and (need to) include more trade-school classes," he said.

He said the school board is working with the Franklin County Board Members Association.

"By joining voices, we can let elected representatives know what goes on in our districts and that if we all work together, we can solve some of our issues so that our children can get the education they deserve," he said.

Board member Debbie Dunlap agreed the academy structure needs "a hard look."

"It has become apparent there is some disparity among our four high school academies," she said. "Some is reality; some is perception. But we must look at both equally in continued efforts to offer not necessarily equal, but equally viable programming at (all four academies)."

She said the enrollment increase means studying the open-enrollment policy.

"We value the education of all children, but we need to take care of our residents and employees first," she said.

Dunlap said she also wants to see more art and music programs and more community involvement.

"Focus groups and surveying are imperative as we move forward as a district," she said. "None of this can be accomplished without the input of our students, staff and community."

Board member Neal Whitman said the district has assigned students who typically would attend Taylor Road or Herbert Mills elementary schools to French Run or Rose Hill because of overcrowding concerns.

"This is a temporary solution, and for next year, we will probably need to redraw boundary lines for Taylor Road and Herbert Mills," he said.

He agreed with Dunlap that the open-enrollment policy needs work and said increasing enrollment could mean building another elementary school.

Whitman said the administration is getting on top of the "academy-sustainability" problem by working on a two-year plan to address high school concerns.

Newly elected board member Robert Barga said changes in the state funding formula and annual report cards make it difficult to plan year by year.

"Regardless of our view of the changes, we must ensure that each student is able to continue on a path that ensures their future success," he said.

He also cited concerns about open enrollment, the disparity among the high school academies and the need for more art programs.

"Finding a way to meet the demands of the students, our goal of equal opportunity and our promise of (ensuring) well-rounded students while balancing the benefits against the added cost and difficulties of scheduling should be a top priority for the board and superintendent," he said.