Reynoldsburg City Schools Superintendent Melvin Brown touched on the good, the bad and the future during his annual State of the Schools address March 7 at a Reynoldsburg Area Chamber of Commerce luncheon.

* The good: Officials are in the process of completing a strategic plan for the district's more than 7,700 students that "will create our five-year marching orders," Brown said.

The district also is preparing to roll out its new 9X Impact program for incoming freshmen this fall. Instead of choosing one of four high school academies at the end of eighth grade, all ninth-graders will be together as freshmen on the second floor of the high school on Livingston Avenue.

About 540 students will be divided into five groups for team-based learning, Brown said. By giving freshmen an entire year to ease into high school, officials hope they will be better prepared to select their academy pathway.

* The bad: The district's overall grade of D on the last state report card. Although the district "accepts" that grade, Brown pointed out that its own quality profile (available at https://tinyurl.com/y5assczc) highlights how the district serves the whole child.

"We're not going to make excuses for (the report card); we have to change it," Brown said. "We want to align what matters in school to what matters in life.

"Only focusing on better test scores means a lot of kids will fall through the cracks," he said. "We have to shift the way we do things. We want our kids to be contributors to society, not just kids who get college degrees and go work somewhere.

"We accept that challenge and ... it's on our plate for the coming years."

* The future: Setting students on the path to graduation needs to start in kindergarten, Brown said -- which is why the district is in the early stages of studying what an all-day program would look like.

In addition, the way students are taught is changing: Worksheets and "busy work" are things of a bygone era in education, Brown said.

Shifting to project-based learning -- where students apply concepts from many subjects and work collaboratively -- and offering new concepts like financial literacy, will better prepare students for the real world, he said.

Funding issues

Reynoldsburg is among the growing number of central Ohio school districts that are "capped" by the state funding formula, Brown said, noting that school districts cannot limit their enrollment growth but the state can and has limited the percentage of additional funding it is willing to give to growing districts.

The biennium budget approved in 2017 for 2018 and 2019 set the ceiling for state-funding increases to school districts at 5.5 percent in fiscal 2018 and 6 percent in 2019.

Around the year 2021-2022, the district will "start to see expenditures exceed revenues," Brown said. "We want to make sure we're in a position ... to push (a levy) out as far as possible. Most districts are going back to the ballot every five to six years and we don't want to be in that position."

Reynoldsburg continues to look for cost-saving measures, he told chamber members. Renovations to HVAC systems at district buildings have led to a 29 percent drop in electricity consumption and a 16 percent decline in natural gas use, Brown said.

That will mean a savings of about $400,000 in energy costs.

The district also has seen a $582,483 decrease in maintenance costs so far this school year, he said.

"That means that money can go back into the classrooms, where we want it," Brown said.

Diversity, security

Reynoldsburg schools are targeting a lack of staff diversity by increasing recruitment of minorities and men, Brown said. About 10 percent of the district staff is black, up from 7 percent last year, he said.

Reynoldsburg's student population is 39 percent black and 10 percent multi-racial, he said.

About 12 percent of students have limited proficiency in English -- an increase from 6.8 percent last year -- and more than 11 percent are students with disabilities, Brown said.

As for security, he said cameras at all district buildings and on all school buses have been upgraded.

"We now have the ability to lock and unlock doors remotely. That's helping us with scheduling events and allowing the community to use our buildings," Brown said.

Highlights of the address can be found on the district's website, www.reyn.org.

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