Pickerington Local School District leaders say they plan to keep tabs on the projected enrollment growth of the district in 2018, as well as evaluate how best to provide mental- health and substance-abuse programming for students.

When the district opened the 2017-18 school year in August, new Superintendent Chris Briggs was holding the reins.

Briggs said he is pleased the district was able to put tablet computers in the hands of all district students by this past August -- four years ahead of schedule -- and accomplishments such as students' academic progress and both Toll Gate Elementary School and Toll Gate Middle School being recognized by the U.S. Department of Education as National Blue Ribbon Schools for overall academic performance or progress in closing achievement gaps among student subgroups.

In 2018, Briggs said, the district plans to ramp up efforts to achieve academic excellence districtwide.

"Something big we're looking toward in 2018 is developing what I'll call the Pickerington Plan for Progress," he said. "We're going to start developing this plan in early 2018 with three priorities: achieving academic excellence, maintaining lean and efficient operations and ensuring we have modern facilities.

"Those will be the three pillars the district uses for planning for years to come," Briggs said. "This process will be a group effort that involves community members, teachers and administration, and we anticipate beginning that work in earnest after the start of the new year."

Another priority for 2018 will be examination of the district's enrollment projections.

"I don't know if I would call growth an issue, per se, but it is something we'll have to keep an eye on and take into consideration as we plan for the future," Briggs said. "We need to track and project enrollment and development trends in the community to ensure we can maintain the kinds of programming, educational options and college and career pathways Pickerington deserves and expects."

Briggs said the district would continue to strive for improved academic performance among students as it seeks to keep pace with education trends and state and federal mandates.

"We're good, but we can always get better," he said.

Vanessa Niekamp, the Pickerington school board president, said many of the board's 2018 objectives will be laid out at a Jan. 8 meeting. It is scheduled for 6 p.m. in Heritage Elementary School, 100 N. East St.

In the meantime, Niekamp said, she has a personal priority, which sshe believes the board supports: to look at how the district is serving students with mental-health issues and how the district is working to prevent or address substance abuse among students.

"We have quite a few programs, but they have not been completely evaluated," Niekamp said. "As we're all aware, in Fairfield County and the state of Ohio as a whole we have been dealing with an opiate problem.

"We want to make sure our district is doing everything it can to address not only mental-health issues, but substance-abuse problems."

Additionally, Niekamp said, she believes board members are looking forward to continuing to work with Briggs to develop best practices and individual programs to best meet the needs of students and the community.

"We're still very excited to have Dr. Briggs on board," she said. "He's made huge strides.

"He's been very involved with the community by listening and seeking input, and then bringing that input to the board."

As for finances, Briggs said, there haven't been any discussions about bringing back an additional funding request after Issue 7 was defeated in May by a count of 3,900 (64.4 percent) to 2,154 (35.6 percent).

"Even without that levy, we'll still be able to continue to divert money annually from our operating budget to pay for capital maintenance," Briggs said. "So our buildings and facilities will remain in great shape.

"Having a process that draws money from day-to-day operating budgets to pay for capital expenses such as parking lot repaving is not necessarily seen as best practices for a school district, though," he said. "We know there are ongoing needs that are not going to go away, but at this time, there has not been any formal discussion of us going back on the ballot.

"That could always change, though." Briggs said.

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