Upper Arlington Schools will continue to focus during 2020 on providing diverse lessons in and out of the classroom to engage students in a variety of ways while also preparing for a new operating levy andworking to ensure student and staff members' interests are nurtured.

As the new year begins, Superintendent Paul Imhoff reiterated many of the themes he delivered during his Nov. 14 State of the Schools address.

"We are always driven by our strategic plan," Imhoff said. "Our top priority in 2020 will be continuing to implement the recommendations in our two goal areas: whole learning and student and staff well-being."

According to the district's strategic plan, the emphasis on whole learning seeks to build on the district's "long-running philosophy" of integrating rigorous academic content with deeper learning skills through engaging experiences, environments and relationships.

As for well-being, the strategic plan states it's the "cornerstone for producing a safe learning environment" where students can thrive.

Through the work of community and staff advisory teams, the well-being initiative is designed to focus on making students and staff feel safe and connected through "an inclusive culture that intentionally promotes relationships, builds trust and celebrates individuals."

The initiative also seeks to create a balance between school and personal time "that allows for satisfaction in all areas of life."

"Throughout it all, we will remain grounded in a mindset of continuous improvement -- using our resources in the most efficient way we can to ensure a high-quality, personalized education for all Upper Arlington students," Imhoff said.

Continuing to develop those strategic plans was identified as a priority for school board member-elect Lori Trent, who said she wants to "build a culture where everyone feels that they belong to our Upper Arlington community, recognizing we are multifaceted, but that there is a place for each and every one of us," she said.

"I want us to be a community that people admire and want to emulate," Trent said, "whether it is embracing diversity, equity and inclusion, joining together to address substance abuse and bullying, or having those hard conversations with community members that have different viewpoints."

Although the district will focus on the best ways to nurture and develop students and staff, officials will ask for community support in 2020 to provide resources for day-to-day operations.

Voters last approved a district operating levy as part of the same November 2017 ballot package that brought forth a bond issue for $230 million in facilities projects. The operations portion was for 3.75 mills and generates approximately $6.3 million annually.

Due to Ohio's system for funding schools, Imhoff said, the district must ask for new revenue this fall.

"Our state funding has remained basically flat for more than two decades, which means we must rely heavily on local funding," Imhoff said. "Local funding means operating levies, which are for a fixed amount.

"So when property values increase, school tax rates are actually rolled back, and the schools continue to get about the same amount. To cover inflation and, in our case, the costs associated with our quickly growing enrollment, schools like ours must come back to the voters about every three years."

Imhoff said the school board would work with district administrators to determine the size and length of the levy in "early spring."

In addition to the strategic plan and the levy, the district's $230 million project to rebuild and renovate Upper Arlington High School and the district's five elementary buildings will be in full swing.

"All of our construction projects remain on budget and on schedule," Imhoff said. "This summer, we will open the new Greensview Elementary School, Wickliffe Progressive Elementary School and the renovated Tremont Elementary School.

"We will also begin construction on the new Windermere Elementary School."

The new Windermere and a renovated Barrington Elementary School are expected to be compete by fall 2021. The new high school is expected to open in August 2022.

"The community-driven master plan is incredibly important to our community in two ways," Imhoff said. "We began the process because we were looking for a long-term, responsible plan to deal with the quickly increasing costs associated with our aging schools.

"These projects accomplish that financial goal and they go beyond that by providing future-ready learning environments that will improve the educational experiences of students for generations to come."

Beyond those initiatives, the levy campaign and the facilities projects, Imhoff said, district officials look forward to welcoming community members to take part in the screening and discussion of the series, "America to Me," a 10-part documentary filmed in a suburban Chicago high school.

" 'America to Me' offers an in-depth look at the effects of race, equity, culture and privilege on educational opportunities in a well-resourced suburban community," he said. "Through this opportunity, we hope to encourage the important discussions in our community that are directly tied to our district's commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion in our new strategic plan."

Other goals that have been identified by district leaders involve communication, according to school board member Nancy Drees.

"From the importance of our strategic plan to educating the new members on roles and responsibilities, my top priority is board-member orientation, board culture and open communication," Drees said. "Board service is a demanding volunteer job, and overall board effectiveness is directly connected to how intentional we are when we are joined together -- how we work as one.

"I want every board member to feel they are engaged, informed and ready to contribute from day one. I want to build a strong leadership team for the long run. They are our future leaders, and building an effective board is a top priority for me."

nellis@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekNate