Hilliard City Schools in 2021: Flexibility will be key for district

A. Kevin Corvo
ThisWeek group

People saw a lot of things differently in 2020, but if there was one where a consensus was achieved, it was that the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic created a battery of challenges never experienced in almost every segment of society.

Some of those challenges will continue in 2021 as Hilliard City Schools administrators prepare for a new year while also looking toward new goals.

Through it all, flexibility will be a key component, according to Superintendent John Marschhausen.

The district's 2021 goals will include assessing and mitigating the “COVID gap,” Marschhausen said, referring to the loss of education when the district was forced to teach remotely after schools were shuttered from mid-March until the end of the 2019-20 academic year and to continue in a hybrid mode with only part-time in-person instruction during 2020-21.

The Alton Darby Creek Campus will open in August. Alton Darby Elementary School, 2730 Alton Darby Creek Road, will have students in kindergarten through second grade. Darby Creek Elementary School, 6305 Pinefield Drive, will have students in third to fifth grades.

“School-aged children will experience COVID gaps for many years," Marschhausen said. "While we know this will be true, we don’t accept it."

The response is an Academic Recovery Plan, but it is only in its beginning stages, he said.

“We will identify and close any gaps our students are experiencing (and) create an Academic Recovery Plan for every student in our district,” Marschhausen said.

The study will involve other central Ohio districts and determine if there are gaps in entire grades or within individual school buildings.

“This will determine if options for more instruction time is needed or if changes in curriculum at the state level need to be addressed,” Marschhausen said.

But some of the unexpected changes that COVID-19 required proved to be useful and are among some of the changes students, parents and guardians will see in the Hilliard school district in 2021.

The way the district learned to use technology during the pandemic will improve some operations in 2021, Marschhausen said.

“While a Zoom conference won’t be replacing in-person instruction, there are places that videoconferencing and flexible instruction options will continue in a post-COVID world,” he said.

It was found that parent-teacher conferences worked well, especially for parents with multiple children in different school buildings, Marschhausen said.

Video conferencing also might be employed for special education conferences.

“For working parents, the ability to ‘jump on a Zoom’ to connect with an education team simplifies the process,” Marschhausen said.

The practice also can extend to students enrolled in College Credit Plus and at the Tolles Career & Technical Center.

College Credit Plus students earned college credits through Columbus State Community College without driving downtown for class, and asynchronous online courses might get Tolles students quicker job placements, Marschhausen said.

“Future Tolles students could take their Hilliard classes through the Online Academy and earn technical-school credits at Tolles," he said.

At the elementary level, the district plans to open its Alton Darby Creek Campus in August – which will involve shifting grade patterns at Alton Darby and Darby Creek elementary schools – as well as rebalancing attendance zones at some other elementary schools, Deputy Superintendent Mike McDonough said.

While the district is at 87% capacity at its 14 elementary schools, some elementary schools, such as Horizon, J.W. Reason and Ridgewood, are above 100% capacity, McDonough said.

“We are over capacity in some buildings and under in others, (and) it is not an efficient use of our schools,” McDonough said. “When we look around our district, we know that our elementary schools vary in size and number when it comes to student attendance.

"We are in the beginning (stages) of finding a way to balance the attendance numbers and the programs offered. In 2021, we will begin to work to rebalance the attendance zones. This will include realigning programming so we do not have to overflow students to other buildings."

The realignment will improve transportation routes, he said.

The Alton Darby Creek Campus will open in August, following the same path that Britton and Norwich elementary schools took when the two adjacent schools merged in August 2020 to create the Britton-Norwich campus, said Stacie Raterman, director of communications for the district.

Alton Darby Elementary School, 2730 Alton Darby Creek Road, and Darby Creek Elementary School, 6305 Pinefield Drive, also are adjacent buildings.

Alton Darby will have students in kindergarten through second grade, and Darby Creek will have students in third to fifth grades.

Likewise, Britton now enrolls students in kindergarten to second grade, and Norwich students are in third to fifth grades.

“Parent groups are meeting to discuss the logistics,” Raterman said, and they have the experience of the Britton-Norwich merger in planning the Alton Darby-Darby Creek merger.

Improvements also are planned for Alton Darby and Darby Creek in advance of the campus merger, McDonough said.

Other improvements in the district include additional classrooms at some buildings in the district, McDonough said.

Meanwhile, the district had to step back from some things in 2021 because of budget cuts related to the pandemic.

One example is the district likely will not seek an operating levy until 2022.

“Through sound fiscal management we have been able to postpone a levy request in 2020," Treasurer Brian Wilson said. "We have cut positions and tightened our budgets, knowing that many in our community are financially hurting due to this pandemic."

Instead of hiring new teachers to staff all-day kindergarten, a program that began in August 2020, the district reallocated staff members, Wilson said.

The district also postponed plans to hire additional guidance counselors, he said.

“We will continue to look to the future even while we are in the height of this pandemic," Wilson said. "We will continue to hold conversations about when a new levy request will happen and what it could mean to our community. We pledge to be open and honest as we discuss these important issues."

Flexibility is perhaps the most important goal for the district in 2021, Marschhausen said.

“(While) our passion for growth is one of (our) core values that won’t change in 2021, the ability to adapt and adjust is vital for our district in 2021 as we continue to navigate this pandemic and its impact on our students and staff,” Marschhausen said.

kcorvo@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekCorvo