"Growth" and "change" will be key words for Reynoldsburg City Schools in 2019 as the district tackles increasing enrollment, academic improvement and a new way of getting ninth-graders through thir freshman year.

"There is tremendous growth in our district, and I see that as a good thing," Superintendent Melvin Brown said. "We always strive to adapt to the changing needs of the district that come with this growth.

"Being nimble and welcoming change as a challenge -- not as a problem -- is essential," he said.

Enrollment numbers

School board Vice President Debbie Dunlap said as of Nov. 1, the district's total enrollment was 7,461. That's up from November 2017, when enrollment was at 7,264. In October 2016, district enrollment was at 6,967 students.

"Increased enrollment is a great problem to have," she said. "Families are choosing Reynoldsburg as a secure and welcoming educational environment, and it is imperative we keep a close eye on these trends."

Open enrollment, which has been offered by Reynoldsburg schools for several years, is a factor. Dunlap said 600 students attending Reynoldsburg schools for the 2018-19 year are from other districts. Because state dollars follow the students, open enrollment is expected to boost revenue for Reynoldsburg schools by $3.67 million by fiscal year 2019 -- the equivalent of a 5-mill levy, Treasurer Tammy Miller said.

However, Dunlap said, as the number of Reynoldsburg residents in the schools increased, some open-enrollment students from other districts had to be turned away.

"Our No. 1 goal is to provide a quality education to our Reynoldsburg residents," she said. "The open-enrollment policy is very clear as to the priority given to residents. If our resident enrollment continues to grow, we will continue to decrease the number of open-enrollment students.

"Some preliminary discussions have already begun at the administrative level as to how this will look and the impact it will have on our district finances," Dunlap said.

Brown said his goal is to ensure that every student is "served equitably."

"We want them to succeed, not only within their K-12 experience, but after graduation as a global citizen and contributor to society," he said. "We also will be faced with the challenge of aligning our resources and efforts in a manner leading to improved system structure.

"This aim is geared toward providing a similar academic experience for students no matter which school they attend, while being purposeful to embrace their interests, strengths and life goals," he said.

The 9X Impact

Brown will unroll what is being called "The 9X Impact" by fall 2019, aimed at providing an equitable "freshman experience" for incoming ninth-graders, all of whom will be assigned to Reynoldsburg High School's Livingston Avenue campus. Instead of choosing one of four high school academies at the end of eighth grade, all ninth-graders will be together as freshmen.

"We are building this experience to better prepare freshmen for the transition into high school, with a focus on key courses to help them choose an academy as a sophomore and to be high-school ready," Brown said.

"We will also focus on the social and emotional needs of our students, which is something that we are doing throughout the district, not just at the ninth-grade level."

Board President Joe Begeny said the freshman year is the most difficult for high school students.

"The adjustment from junior high to high school, academically as well as the social adjustment, can be too much for some students," he said. "We need to make every effort to lay the foundation for success."

He said The 9X Impact grew from concerns about overcrowding at some academies and under-enrollment at others, along with parental fears that eighth-graders were not prepared to choose a high school pathway.

"Now our students will be able to see what each academy has to offer before they make their selections," he said.

Brown said he wants to create "a seamless academic experience."

"We want to ensure that our high school academy structure stretches to elementary and middle school by creating learning opportunities for kids that mimic some of what (the academy structure) offers," he said. "Students should have a seamless academic experience as they move throughout their K-12 continuum."

Dunlap said Reynoldsburg's situation is unique in that the district has two high school campuses and four academies to choose from.

"The 9X Impact brings with it the demand for a very unique structure to allow for these unique experiences -- something administration, staff, parents and students all have a say in developing," she said.

Brown said Reynoldsburg administrators aim to improve the district's state report card grades, which were a dismal overall "D" in 2018.

"While the state report card is not a complete view of our success, we know that we must improve our performance indicators as measured by it," he said.

He said the report card standards are still changing, however.

"This measure has evolved significantly over the past few years and still seeks to find consistency," he said. "We will need to keep pace with those changes and be poised to respond appropriately," he said.

"We hope that the next iteration of the state report card will be a better measure of the work that is being done, but despite that lack of coherence and consistency, we will also have our own mechanisms to gauge our progress and to report to our community."

Begeny said the report cards need to be changed "to show the true value of the education our students receive in Reynoldsburg."

"While we all know that success is more than a test score, we are judged, sometimes unfairly or arbitrarily, by standards that the state creates that tell us more about the economics of an area than actual student achievement," he said.