Delaware City Schools in 2021: Students' social, emotional needs among top priorities

Paul Comstock
ThisWeek
Jason Sherman (left), Delaware City Schools facilities and transportation director, and Dempsey Middle School principal Daniel Bartha stand in front of the addition under construction at Dempsey.

The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic has affected nearly all operations of Delaware City Schools in 2020 and will continue to do so in early 2021, Superintendent Heidi Kegley said.

The New Year also will see continuing work to add building space or improvements in all the district's school buildings, she said.

As was the case in 2020, the district's response to the pandemic in 2021 will continue to be a team effort involving district families, the district staff and the Delaware General Health District, Kegley said.

"Our partnerships with the (health district) and other community partners have been critical in this time and will continue to be so important as we move forward," she said. "We know we can rely on each other and that we can call and ask questions and continue to make those decisions that are best for us as a school district and our community.

"We know that by working with the health district, we made those right decisions concerning health and safety, and we know that those were critical pieces to ensuring we were able to stay with in-person learning as long as possible," Kegley said.

 As the number of new COVID-19 skyrocketed in Ohio and the United States, Delaware was among many school districts that had returned to all-remote, at-home learning in December before the holiday break.

The district had been using a hybrid schedule for families who had selected it, with students rotating between classes in school buildings and remote learning at home. Families also had the option of selecting all-remote learning during that time.

The school board on Dec. 14 approved a plan to continue the remote-only learning Jan. 4 and to allow hybrid learning to return Jan. 11 for the families who have selected it.

Kegley made that recommendation to the school board, citing factors that include Ohio Department of Health reports that now list new COVID-19 cases by ZIP code.

The pandemic response will continue to include a number of support services for students in 2021, Kegley said.

The Willis Education Center includes a Family Resource Center operating a food pantry and diaper bank for the families who need it, she said.

The center has seen an increase in the number of visitors with the onset of colder weather, Kegley said.

The district also continues to distribute breakfasts and lunches to students in the district's remote-only Online Academy and when students learn at home as part of the hybrid schedule, she said.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is providing funding for the food distribution for the entire school year, she said. The district also expects to continue its summer food distribution to students and adults. 

The pandemic has underscored the need for internet connectivity at a time when many families have no such access, Kegley said.

As a result, the district repeatedly has distributed internet hot spots to allow both remote learning for students and online access for employment applications and other services for adults, she said, and more distributions will continue in 2021.

Another priority is to meet the social and emotional needs of students and the school staff, Kegley said.

The district uses Panorama Student Surveys, which identified such needs, and demand has increased for the services of Lewis Center-based Syntero Counseling Partnership, with which the district is a longtime partner, she said.

Further support is available from the district's social and emotional  counselors, as well as from academic counselors and social-skills specialists, said district public-information officer Jennifer Ruhe.

The counselors meet online with students individually and in small groups, Ruhe said.

Another tier of support is provided by virtual after-school clubs, she said. It's a continuation of clubs that existed before the pandemic, focusing on such interests as debate, youth in government and chess, among other topics, she said.

Building program

The school district is continuing its building-upgrade program launched before the pandemic, Kegley said.

Upgrades to all buildings are funded by voter approval of a $36.5 million bond issue in 2019. As part of the project, additions will be constructed at Schultz and Carlisle elementary schools and Dempsey Middle School, she said.

Schultz will get more classrooms and an expanded kitchen, Dempsey a 2-story addition and Carlisle new space at its main entrance.

Kegley said the construction schedule has not been slowed by the pandemic, and projects at those schools should be finished when school opens in August 2021.

Also planned in 2021 are projects at Woodward, Smith and Conger elementary schools, Kegley said.

Woodward will get a new parking lot, a new main entrance an office area and additional space, including areas for music and art, she said.

Conger will receive additional classroom space, a relocated and expanded playground and new green space, she said.

Enhancements to the playground will be made at Smith, and air-conditioning upgrades are planned at Hayes High School, Kegley said.

Ruhe said district leaders hope 2021 sees progress in the Ohio General Assembly on a Fair School Funding Plan.

A bill that was approved by the Ohio House of Representatives and was being considered in the Senate would have remedied a "gain cap" that limits the distribution of state funds to school districts with growing enrollment.

District officials earlier estimated the gain cap means an annual loss of about $7 million in state funding.

House Bill 305 failed to move forward prior to the conclusion of the 133rd General Assembly on Dec. 31.

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