The second phase of the South-Western City School District's Ohio Facilities Construction Commission project is expected to get underway after the current school year ends.

"We anticipate we will be doing early site preparation work and will start turning earth this summer," Superintendent Bill Wise said.

Groundbreaking ceremonies for the new buildings at Brookpark, Finland, Norton and Pleasant View middle schools will be held in the fall, he said.

"We want to have everyone back to school before we hold the formal ceremonies so everyone can celebrate," Wise said.

The second phase also will include renovations at Jackson Middle School and East Franklin Elementary School.

In November 2018, voters approved a 38-year, $93.4 million bond issue to pay the district's share of the second phase of the OFCC project.

The district plans to have the schematic design documents for the project completed by the end of February or beginning of March, Wise said.

"We intend to solicit community feedback on the schematic designs through (an online survey)," he said.

"We want to make sure we've integrated what people told us they wanted to see in the building designs" in previous open-house meetings, Wise said.

The four new buildings will replace the current school buildings, he said.

Ruscilli Construction will serve as the construction manager for the Finland and Brookpark projects, and Summit Construction will have that role for Norton and Pleasant View, Wise said.

"Both of those companies worked with us in various roles in the first phase of the project," he said.

The buildings are expected to be completed and open for students in August 2022, Wise said.

Along with the OFCC project, the district is planning to complete a number of permanent-improvements projects at schools during the summer, he said.

The installation of an HVAC system and interior improvements except flooring (furniture, kitchen, electric and plumbing) will be completed at East Franklin and the HVAC system at Darby Woods Elementary School will be updated, Wise said.

Each of the district's school buildings are cleaned from top to bottom during the summer, a project that encompass more than 3 million square feet of building space, he said.

Academic initiatives

South-Western is looking to build upon the increased success in academics it has been able to achieve, Wise said.

The district's four-year graduation rate increased to 87.9 percent in 2019, the highest in South-Western's history, he said.

The class of 2019 earned more than $25 million in scholarship offers and South-Western students took more than 3,000 college courses to earn more than 8,500 college credits while also taking classes to meet high school graduation requirements, Wise said.

During the second half of the current school year, South-Western will continue to amp up its effort to incorporate workplace development and career readiness at the middle school level, he said.

About 4,000 middle school students are taking career and technical education courses this school year, Wise said.

"It's the first year we're offering those types of courses at the middle school level," he said.

"Our philosophy is that it's beneficial to expose our students at a younger age to experiences relating to these various career fields and opportunities."

It will help some students discover what areas they might want to explore as a career and plan for courses they could take in high school to set a pathway toward reaching a goal, Wise said.

Middle school students are taking courses in subjects related to computers, IT, health care, pre-engineering and mobile apps, he said.

Students are using new Apple technology this school year to work on coding and app-development projects, Wise said.

Six middle school teachers participated last summer in a training program for the new equipment hosted by Ohio State University and Apple, he said.

Financial outlook

The district's revenue and expenses are expected to stay on track as projected in the five-year forecast he presented in November, treasurer Hugh Garside said.

"The new biennial state budget gives school districts the same amount of funding as they received the previous year, and that's true for us," he said.

South-Western receives about $141.7 million in state funding, which represents about 52.9% of its total general-fund revenues, Garside said.

Districts are receiving additional state funding in the form of Student Wellness and Success Funds. In all, the state is providing Ohio districts $675 million over the next two years.

"School districts can use the money to fund programs and services that meet the social and emotional needs of their students," Garside said.

South-Western is expected to receive about $7 million over the next two years in wellness and success funding, he said.

The district will be able to use that money to help fund programs it already has in place, including Communities in Schools and I Know I Can, Garside said.

"This additional money will free up funds in the general fund we can use for our normal cost of doing business," he said.

The district's partnership with Communities in School, a nonprofit organization that works to help reduce non-academic barriers students face, now includes14 South-Western schools, Wise said, including the addition of Norton Middle School this year.

The partnership with I Know I Can has been expanded to all four high schools.

I Know I Can is a college-access program that provides college-success coaches to work with freshmen and sophomores and college-advising managers who work with juniors and seniors.