The 2018 calendar year has been productive and triumphant for the Hilliard City School District.

From the opening of Memorial Middle School and the Hub at our Innovation Campus to new partnerships with business and industry, from awarding the most college credits to high school students in our district's history to celebrating the effective implementation of the 2020 Strategic Vision, 2018 was an unquestionable success.

Though our victories are numerous and our accomplishments meritorious, what creates the greatest sense of pride for me are the conversations we have started.

The challenges facing public education are numerous. Our increasingly diverse community is a representation of both our state and country. Hilliard is a microcosm of America; we truly prepare each student to be ready for tomorrow in the real world.

It isn't easy. In fact, preparing students for a multinational, interdependent and economically disparate future is tough. It requires us simply to do the work.

The first step to improvement is identification of areas for growth.

We must have the courage to embrace the productive discomfort of change, progress and engagement. It's easy to accept the status quo, to cling to the way it always has been done and to not rock the boat.

What sets Hilliard apart, what we've done so well in 2018, is starting difficult conversations and beginning the process of identifying solutions.

Our liberty requires us to engage in productive conversations with those with whom we disagree. We must discuss and debate future actions. We must be civil, empathetic and respectful.

* For student well-being, the district has created a director-level position dedicated to the mental health and well-being of students. These efforts previously were directed by the student-services department.

The Hilliard school board understands that young people today face new challenges. From social media to 24/7 connectivity, it is a different world. In response, Mike Abraham has made an immediate impact as director of student well-being.

We engaged students and families with in-school and public showings of the movie "Angst" to get the conversation started about student anxiety and stress.

On March 9, we will partner with our neighbors in Dublin to host a Parent University event titled "Be Well." This event will engage both communities in this important conversation. In order for students to learn to their capabilities, they must be healthy and safe. We have started this difficult conversation, and we have a path moving forward.

* For social-emotional learning, the district has embraced the need to cultivate both the academic and social-emotional needs of students.

Through our continued partnership with Panorama Education, the district is measuring and monitoring five social-emotional attributes of our students in grades 2 to 12. This commitment is predicated on the belief that we should be instilling specific life skills in the young people we serve.

Our business partners continue to share there is a lack of work skills for individuals entering the workforce. We know what skills are required for success, and we must teach them. We know that instilling a sense of hope and optimism in our students is a greater predictor of success than test scores.

The research is clear; we must change our practices.

* Regarding opportunities for students, I was honored to be asked to contribute to an HBO "Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel" production.

The segment focused on the increasing challenges for economically disadvantaged families who want to provide opportunities for students in elite youth sports. The cost of travel teams and training, beginning as early as the third grade, have put top-level athletics out of the reach of some families.

This isn't an easy conversation. It is uncomfortable, especially for those involved in the education and athletic fields.

Solving this problem isn't about limiting opportunities for those with family resources. Progress – leveling the playing field – requires us to make high-quality training available for all students.

We must engage private entities, capitalize on public resources and seek alternative options.

This isn't a Hilliard issue – this is a national issue. It is incumbent on us to be part of the conversation, and we have an opportunity to be a voice in a national conversation.

As we focus on our "Next X" plan, a vision for education from 2020 to 2030, we will continue to engage the community in the conversation.

There will be community meetings and electronic surveys. The district will seek input, capitalize on expertise and utilize a new resource called Thoughtexchange to gather your thoughts.

We know you are busy, but we want to hear from you. It isn't about the handful of individuals who regularly attend meetings. This is about hearing from the masses.

The start of a new year is a time for reflection.

As we reflect on 2018, we live our value to pursue excellence in all that we do. Our growth mindset is our North Star as we build on success and learn from failures.

As we point to 2019, we do so with optimism and hope. I know that we made a difference in 2018 and I know we are going to continue to change lives in 2019.

Hilliard City Schools Superintendent John Marschhausen writes the Hilliard Schools Connection guest column for the ThisWeek Hilliard Northwest News.