Pickerington school board leaders said they'll seek to further the district's "Plan for Progress," while adding online classes for high school students and coping and life-skills programs for all students.

During its Jan. 9 organizational meeting, the Pickerington Board of Education unanimously elected Michelle Waterhouse to serve as board president and Lori Sanders to serve as vice president.

Waterhouse is entering her fourth year on the board. She was elected to a four-year term in November 2015.

"I'm happy to serve as the board president," Waterhouse said. "It's a really good group right now, and I enjoy working with all of them."

Sanders is the board's longest-serving member, elected to her sixth four-year term in November 2017.

"I am always ready to serve and support the needs of the board," Sanders said. "We do rotate (through the officers' positions), as you know, and I accepted my spot in the rotation."

For the coming year, both Waterhouse and Sanders said board members intend to facilitate Pickerington Superintendent Chris Briggs' efforts to move forward with a Plan for Progress he worked with district officials to introduce at the outset of this school year.

The plan focuses on three areas:

* Academic excellence -- Take a closer look at what the district must do to engage all students in learning experiences that will prepare them for careers, college and life.

* Efficient operations -- Work to determine how the district could maximize resources and ensure it is spending and operating wisely without waste.

* Modern facilities -- Ensure the district's facilities reflect an environment needed to be successful in today's education world.

Waterhouse said she's specifically interested in fostering an aspect of the academic excellence portion of the plan that not only helps students in classrooms, but also helps them manage personal well-being.

"The Plan for Progress has a whole-child and relationships component under the Academic Excellence section," she said. "There will be a presentation to the board in February addressing the need for coping skills and life skills for our kids K-12."

Sanders spoke more generally of the plan, but said she'll work with an Academic Excellence subcommittee.

That committee is one of three Briggs has formed that will come together in February to develop priorities within the plan's areas.

In December, Briggs said the subcommittees' work will help the district create strategies with the community to reach goals set within the plan and measure its success.

"I am looking forward to the next phase of work with the district Plan for Progress," Sanders said. "We are all currently on different subcommittees.

"I currently serve on the Academic Excellence subcommittee and am excited about the forward-thinking, student-centered work that is going on."

Waterhouse listed several additional priorities in 2019.

She said the district plans soon to implement heart screening for students to support healthier students and help identify potential at-risk students.

Additionally, she said the district hopes to expand athlete drug testing to make it a year-round program. Currently, athletes are only tested during the seasons in which they're participating in sports. She also said the district will bring in speakers to both high schools to address the powers and pitfalls of social media.

Further, Waterhouse said the district plans to introduce online classes for high school students.

"This coming year, we will offer an employability course that will be online, but facilitated by one of our (district) teachers," she said.

"Kids in college often have to take an online class at some point, and this will give our students the ability to take one in a supportive environment.

"We will also be offering an online course that will result in a caregiver certification and a 10-hour (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) certificate upon completion." Waterhouse said. "The high schools also have tested flex-learning via work opportunities and will be opening up that option to students for credit this coming year."

Sanders said she's looking forward to continuing to enhance community outreach through communications between the district and residents.

At the board's Jan. 9 regular meeting, members voted unanimously to extend a three-year contract that will pay Crystal Davis $90,000 annually to serve as the district's public- relations coordinator.

"We just welcomed a new public-relations coordinator to the district and I am excited to see our plan to continue telling 'our story,'" Sanders said.

"Our community should be proud of the direction we are moving in and the continued hard work that goes into constantly improving what we provide for student. It benefits our entire community."