As Reynoldsburg City Schools leap into a new year, school board members discussed challenges and wish lists for 2017.

As Reynoldsburg City Schools leap into a new year, school board members discussed challenges and wish lists for 2017.

Board President Joe Begeny said selecting a new superintendent would be a major challenge.

"This will set the stage for the district for years to come," he said. "With Finding Leaders (search firm), we can make sure all members of our community have input and feedback so the board can make the best selection possible."

The board voted 4-1 in September to not renew Superintendent Tina Thomas-Manning's contract beyond its end date of July 31, 2017. Hired in 2014, the superintendent had to deal with contentious union negotiations and a 19-day teachers' strike.

Begeny said teachers' contract negotiations come up again this spring.

"We owe it to the community to make this work quickly and without any of the issues from 2014," he said. "I am sure we will come together on an agreement that will be fair to all sides."

Begeny himself is a teacher, for Columbus City Schools.

As far as continuing or expanding programs, he said, "That will be up to the administration and staff of our district."

"One of the biggest advantages of our district is the freedom our administrators and teachers enjoy in taking chances to get the best results for our students," he said. "The reality is the board must continue to listen to the community as we move forward with any decisions. Their voices and support are so important to the success of our district."

Neal Whitman said he hoped to make it easier for students to explore class options outside their selected academic pathways.

"I hope that doing so will make choosing an academy a less emotionally fraught milestone for students and their families," he said. The high school has four interest-based academies.

He said district infrastructure also is a concern.

"We will continue to work toward getting on a more predictable schedule of preventive maintenance, in order to better control costs by minimizing repairs or replacements that have to be done on an emergency basis," he said.

On Whitman's wish list is expanding partner relationships.

"I would like to see the district maintain and strengthen partnerships with entities such as Mount Carmel Health, Ballet Met and local colleges and universities, as well as continue to offer career options through programs such as Eastland-Fairfield Career Center."

Debbie Dunlap said the superintendent search is key to future success.

"It is imperative we find a leader who is not only a partner in education, but who will embrace our district's accomplishments while setting a course to lead us successfully for years to come," she said.

She said overcrowding on the Summit campus because of student choice also has to be solved.

"It is my hope that we do what is best for our children -- which may be somewhere in between taking on innovative and leading strategies while embracing those values that have become the building blocks of education," she said. "I hope we value each and every one of our four academies and celebrate each success while fine-tuning individual circumstances which make each academy unique."

Safety and security also are a challenge "in an increasingly uncertain world," she said. Students now practice active shooter drills and a new in-school software system keeps doors locked, tracks visitors and increases communication to law enforcement.

A 14-year old boy was arrested Dec. 5 at the Summit Campus of Reynoldsburg High School for bringing a loaded handgun and extra ammunition to school. A number of parents complained they learned about the gun from the news media first -- not school officials.

"I understand there is a delicate balance between communication, preserving an active investigation and inciting unnecessary panic," Dunlap said. "It is my hope we find that balance this year."

On Dunlap's wish list is continuing to boost art and music choices for students, plus strengthen bonds between the district and the city.

"From safety and security to youth programming to providing for families experiencing hard times, this partnership is a safety net neither the city nor schools can live without," she said.

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