Whitehall City School District officials say in 2018 they will build on accomplishments made this year while striving to improve opportunities for the district's growing number of students.

The district might also seek a permanent-improvement levy in 2018 to address that growth.

"There were a lot of great changes (in 2017) and we will spend (2018) refining those changes," Superintendent Brian Hamler said, adding new initiatives will be introduced as well.

"Engaging and informing our parents and stakeholders is always a focus," said Hamler.

As an example, he will host a State of the Schools address at 7 p.m. Feb. 13.

Hamler said he has not delivered a State of the Schools address since he became superintendent in 2013.

Whitehall-Yearling High School, 675 S. Yearling Road, will host the event. Parents and community members will be invited to hear from Hamler and other district leaders.

The address will focus on curriculum, finances and "an overview of our direction," Hamler said.

He said the district in 2018 wants to expand its partnerships with colleges and universities.

"Columbus State Community College continues to assist us with building pathways that lead to careers that market research tells us will be in high demand in the region," Hamler said.

Meanwhile, Otterbein University continues to offer Whitehall teachers professional development in project-based learning.

The district's newest partner, Capital University, wants to grow its involvement at the Early Literacy Campus at Kae Avenue Elementary School and the adjacent C. Ray Williams Early Education Center, Hamler said.

Beginning in August, the two schools began housing all kindergarten and first-grade students in the district, while students in grades 2-5 attend either Beechwood or Etna Road elementary schools.

"Building success begins with strong literacy skills, and with the development of the literacy campus, (our) focus will continue to be targeted intervention and support for readers of all levels," Hamler said.

"It's our goal to have every child leave the first grade as an active reader," he said.

At Whitehall-Yearling High School, Hamler said he is optimistic that the lower number of disciplinary issues in 2017 will become the new standard.

"Creating and maintaining productive learning environments will always be a fundamental goal of the district," he said.

Whitehall-Yearling's school resource officer, Mark Showalter, has played a critical role in improving the school's environment, Hamler said, as has his use of a grant through Franklin County Department of Job and Family Services that funds a program called Building Better Lives.

The grant provides funding for two on-site coordinators and a life coach -- a former Columbus schools principal -- who help students develop social skills and build character.

Student suspensions at Whitehall-Yearling were down about 49 percent during the first semester of the 2017-18 school year compared to last year's first semester, Hamler said.

Enrollment will be a continuing challenge this year.

"Providing adequate space to support learning will be of great importance in 2018," Hamler said.

Enrollment has surpassed 3,400 students districtwide; the district's three elementary schools, middle school and high school were designed for a capacity of 2,943 students, said Treasurer Steve McAfee.

"We're particularly concerned about Rosemore Middle School. It was designed to house 652 students and enrollment could approach 900 by 2020-21," McAfee said.

"Our enrollment has reached a point at which the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission is giving serious consideration to providing more funding to build additional classrooms," he said.

Doing so would require the district to seek a permanent-improvement levy, McAfee said.

"If we do receive assistance (from the commission), we still have to pay our share, which is 39 percent of the project's cost," McAfee said. That cost remains unknown, he said.

A permanent-improvement levy is a preferred option, McAfee said, because it could fund additional classrooms in its first several years, then become a revenue stream for maintenance as all buildings begin to wear.

"Our hope is to have something on the ballot before the end of 2018 so we can address overcrowding at the middle school before it becomes a critical problem, but our timeline is at the mercy of the OFCC and their process," McAfee said.