The past calendar year has been like a roller coaster for the Hilliard City School District.

The past calendar year has been like a roller coaster for the Hilliard City School District.

Cuts in April followed a failed 9.5-mill levy in March. A crossing guard was killed while escorting a child across the street to the school in April.

A settlement was finally reached after months of negotiations between the board of education and the teacher's union. The school board passed a resolution in August to go on the ballot again shortly after learning that the district gained an "Excellent With Distinction" rating on the Ohio Report Card.

And after an operating levy passed in November, $3-million was still scheduled to be cut from the budget.

Through it all, Superintendent Dale McVey said administrators and staff have placed consistent emphasis on meeting student needs.

"I think throughout the last 12 months within the educational setting, we continue to focus on meeting students' needs and increasing student achievement," he said.

The end game, said McVey, is to ensure the educational needs of students.

"Along with that, 'How do we know that we are meeting student's needs?'" he asked.

Accountability goes far beyond the Ohio Achievement Test (OAT) and Ohio Graduation Test (OGT) results, according to McVey.

"The business of the district sort of takes care of itself," he said. "Levies, in our current system, are inevitable. Negotiations are part of our experience every three years. We know those are going to continue to be part of our experience. But how do we separate and keep at core what our focus is and that is taking care of children. That is what I focus on as we close out the 2008 calendar year."

McVey said the district tries to separate the drive for getting a levy approved, during the years when they are needed, from the classroom instruction.

"I think we have significant evidence that will suggest that is exactly what has happened," he said.

The report card is an important evaluation tool, but not the only accountability tool.

"It certainly is an important instrument that gives us an understanding of how our students are performing in alignment with state standards and in comparison to other systems, specifically in our comparison group," he said, "so it is an extremely important document."

Assistant Superintendent Andy Riggle agreed.

When cuts were made earlier this year, McVey and his team of administrators had to notify people that their jobs were being eliminated.

"We're a people business," he said. "That is what we do, that is what defines us. We, I think, in this district work real hard at taking care of kids and taking care of each other. It is very difficult when you have to make tough choices that ultimately result in loss of employment. It is important to understand that we live in very challenging economic times. School districts are not immune from the economic woes of the state, of this nation and beyond."

McVey said he does not like seeing anyone put in the position of losing their jobs.

"Unfortunately in this day and time it is reflective of where we are in our state of the economy," he said.

When a 6.9-mill operating levy passed in November, McVey was relieved.

"The stories that moved me were the stories that always tied back to what I saw through the eyes of students," he said. "Whether it was that middle school student whose basketball shoes were literally at the foot of his bed and he was hoping that on Wednesday he got to take them to school for tryouts, or those two high school students from Darby who took their own initiative and made that video to talk to us through their eyes and lend their voices to 'this is about our future'."

During one of the most dire economic times faced in decades, he said, the community came together to protect their children's education. Those who do not have children, McVey said, also pitched it to say it is too important to the future to turn it down.

The death of Scioto Darby Elementary School crossing guard Dianna L. Sharp in an attempt to save the life of Christian Engle on April 10, shocked the entire community.

"Tragedy becomes part of one's experiences and they take different forms," said McVey. "Yet this was unique in and of itself. It was an experience that in talking with my colleagues none of us had ever been faced with anything remotely close to anything of this nature. Words don't adequately describe how tragic that event was."

The impact over the test of time is indescribable, according to McVey.

"You can never be prepared for something like that," he said. "That's why you have crisis plans."

In the coming year, McVey said, the two most important initiatives are literacy and assessment.

He said he sees evidence of it every time he is in the schools.

Riggle said they will be working with research-based academic issues.

The kindergarten through 12th grade literacy program was implemented this fall, but it is still in the process of being developed.

"The focus of that curriculum addition is literacy across a major content area," said Riggle. "So how do teachers outside of the language arts classes, how do they reinforce reading achievement, how do they reinforce proper writing skills and in math classes, science classes? That is something we really put a strong focus on, because literacy really is central to learning."

Late last year, Riggle said, the district started a math course of study. It will be completed by the end of the school year.

"Not only have we been researching and coming up with purposeful initiatives, we combine that with a consistent review of student performance," he said.

The idea is to determine that they are successfully reaching students.

Riggle said they helped teachers develop a series of common assessments that periodically track student progress, rather than waiting on the OGT and OAT.

"Literacy is critical to any student's success in any area," said McVey.