Plans are afoot to completely change the Reynoldsburg High School academy structure by the 2019-20 school year to create a "freshman experience" for all ninth-graders on the Livingston Avenue campus.
Superintendent Melvin Brown said he and the four academy principals, along with other administrators, have been working "diligently" to address the enrollment disparity between the Livingston and Summit Road campuses.
"Our current system does not allow all of our students to access the types of experiences they want and need," he said.
For the past two years, more than 70 percent of eighth-graders put in requests to attend the Summit Road campus, which houses eSTEM Academy and Encore Academy.
That campus would be overcrowded if all those students were accommodated, but the BELL and (HS)2 STEM Academies at the Livingston campus have excess space. The district's solution for the past two years has been a lottery system, which meant not all students were able to attend their chosen academy.
Brown said requiring all freshmen to attend classes together on the Livingston campus would help the district meet the academic, social and emotional needs typical for ninth-graders.
"Along with basic subjects, we would purposely teach readiness for high school," he said.
"College and career readiness is fantastic, but let's get them successful in high school first."
He said a potential ninth-grade schedule could include English/language arts 9; world history; physical science/biology; integrated math 1 or 2, or algebra or geometry; a world-language elective and a foundational-studies course.
"We have been missing a huge component by not having a foundational-studies course for all freshmen," Brown said. "We need to go back to teaching study skills to develop academic strength."
He said after students complete their freshman year, they would move to the academy of their choice as sophomores.
"Students could follow their established paths but could transfer to the other academies if they changed their minds," he said.
The district also would offer younger students the chance to get to know the academies at a younger age, Brown said.
"I want kids making choices because they have as much information in their grasp as possible," he said. "I want them to understand what they are interested in because they have crafted a project in an earlier grade in that particular pathway."
He said middle school students, or even younger students, could attend field trips to each academy to learn what opportunities are available.
Upgrades at the Livingston Avenue campus would be necessary, however, to accommodate all freshmen. Brown said that work could begin this summer.
"We are meeting with contractors to walk the building and with engineers, to see what we can do and what the alignment would look like," he said.
District administrators would take the full 2018-19 school year to coordinate the new academic structure and would be getting feedback from teachers, students and parents, Brown said. They also would look at each academy and begin to address inequities in resources and programs.
Brown's proposal was well received by most of the Reynoldsburg Board of Education, but Jeni Quesenberry said parent concerns include how students who have attended only STEM schools since kindergarten would be accommodated.
"It could become an issue with some parents, if their student misses out on some piece of STEM education," she said.
Brown said freshmen still would have access to STEM courses.
"A student in the STEM pipeline would have access to STEM curriculum but also get a chance to look at all the pathways to see where his strengths lie," he said.
Board President Joe Begeny said he liked the proposal.
"This has been a long problem and we have put Band-Aids on it and tried to solve it and had obstacles all along the way," he said. "I think we need to make some changes for the long-term, and the updates at the Livingston campus are long overdue.
"This is not a problem to be solved overnight, but we are working on it."