Upper Arlington Schools is rolling out a new strategic plan officials say will strive to enhance academics by better supporting students' and staff members' sense of belonging and the balance between school and personal time.

After months of discussion and collecting feedback from students, staff, community members and consultants, the Upper Arlington Board of Education voted unanimously Aug. 13 to approve the three-year strategic plan.

Although the focus of the plan, which will span 2019-2022, will remain academics, the district is embracing new philosophies to help students succeed.

"The new strategic plan narrows our focus on two priority areas -- whole learning and student and staff well-being, which go hand in hand," said Superintendent Paul Imhoff.

According to the district, "whole learning" focuses on educating the "whole child" by providing greater integration of academic content with deeper learning skills through a variety of engaging experiences, environments and relationships.

Imhoff said an example of whole learning was a project at Greensview Elementary School last school year in which students and staff wrote, illustrated, edited and marketed a picture book about Upper Arlington called "Golden Bears A to Z." He said the project provided "real-world learning," from signing a book contract to marketing it to businesses and consumers.

"The whole-learning area is our core business -- academics," Imhoff said. "We have been a national leader in education for generations, and for our second century, we will focus even more intently on this area to ensure future generations of students will be uniquely accomplished and prepared to serve, lead and succeed."

Additionally, the district has included student and staff well-being in the plan.

Those areas, Imhoff said, will focus on working to ensure students and staff feel safe and connected at school, while also seeking to strike a balance between school work and personal time.

"We believe well-being is critical to fostering a safe and inclusive learning environment where our students and staff can thrive," Imhoff said.

Over time, he said, new initiatives will be implemented to address student and staff well-being.

But the effort also will seek to build on practices already in place throughout the district, he said.

An example, he said, is at the district's middle schools. There, students and teachers have been working to build a sense of belonging through weekly advisory meeting that focus on social-emotional learning, acceptance and support of self and others.

Another example, district officials said, is a Mentor Day held at the middle schools the day before the first day of school.

Through that program, now at Jones and Hastings middle schools, seventh- and eighth-graders serve as mentors for incoming sixth-graders, as well as seventh- and eighth-graders who are new to the schools.

After going through a six-hour training, the mentors call new students before an orientation day, which is one day prior to the start of school.

During the orientation, mentors lead the new students through their respective school buildings to help familiarize them with the layouts.

"It was designed to be an orientation to kind of bridge the gap for kids coming from elementary to middle school," said Nancy Rapport, a counselor at Jones. "The sixth-graders will come to school for almost a full day.

"All the adults are here and all the mentors. The goal has always been to get them feeling so comfortable that (the first day of school) is not scary."

Through the student and well-being initiatives, the plan also seeks to bolster "continuous improvement," which it defines as "taking a disciplined and ongoing approach to improving student and system outcomes tied to our strategic priorities and whole-child philosophy."

"This idea started with our Efficiency Project a few years ago, and now we will ensure it's threaded through everything we do," Imhoff said. "This means taking a disciplined and ongoing approach to improving student and system outcomes tied to our strategic priorities and our whole-child philosophy."

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