Hilliard Schools Connection: District looks forward, not back, to build better 2021

John Marschhausen
Guest columnist

The COVID-19 coronavirus certainly has disrupted our lives in innumerable ways.

We've lost family and friends to the virus, segments of the economy continue to suffer and our children have endured a very different school experience.

John Marschhausen

As a school district, Hilliard City Schools continues to respond to each challenge. Health conditions and medical advice change frequently; we adapt and adjust with new recommendations.

With spring just a couple of months away, the longer days and warmer temperatures will bring a renewed hope. The vaccines hold the promise for a return to a more normal tomorrow.

With faith and hope, we look to the future. Our district leadership team plans to return to "all-in" instruction this year and a more traditional start to the school year in August.

As our education staff members receive the two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine in February, we are working with health officials as we plan for a return to all-in instruction.

Although the vaccine will protect the adults in the schools, we still will maintain specific mitigation strategies to protect our students. New research is being published that supports school-age students having lower risks.

Gov. Mike DeWine has set a goal of March 1 for students to return to school buildings. We are proud that for the vast majority of this school year, Hilliard safely has maintained a hybrid instruction model.

We recognize the importance of in-person education. We also recognize the stress the hybrid model places on families, employers and students. The school board will review plans to return students to all-in mode at public meetings.

With thousands of students enrolled in the Hilliard Online Academy, we know some families have thrived in this environment. The district plans to continue to offer the Hilliard Online Academy in the future. Parents will be asked to make a full-year commitment if students would like to continue in the academy. If online instruction works for a student and family, we will meet this need.

The coming months also will signal the start of the scheduling process for secondary students for the 2021-22 academic year. We anticipate most online students will return to the traditional classroom for the next school year, but the scheduling process will give us reliable figures.

District leaders initially had planned to redistrict our elementary attendance areas. With uncertain enrollment returning from online instruction, increased kindergarten enrollment and thousands of new homes in the construction pipeline, we are postponing the redistricting process.

Related story:Hilliard City Schools will postpone changing attendance boundaries for elementary schools

At the same time, we will restart the facilities task force. The task force was preparing to present a report to the school board when the coronavirus shut down everything. Now, as we prepare for a post-COVID world, we will bring the group back together, review where we are and make any necessary adjustments.

We also must include the approved Sugar Farm, Quarry, Alton Place, Hill Farm and Carr Farms developments. Hilliard is a desirable area for developers, and the schools are a crucial component of residential growth. District leaders are actively engaged with members of Hilliard City Council and township leaders. This partnership is essential for skillful planning and decisions.

Hilliard's commitment to equity and diversity also crosses intergovernmental lines. Our district's Equity and Diversity Task Force works side by side with the city of Hilliard.

At the district level, we are led by our director of equity and diversity, Samantha Chatman. By resolution, our school board has enumerated specific actions for the district to address systemic racism and create the learning environment expected in an elite school community.

In the coming months, as health conditions permit, we will be expanding our committees to include more parents, students and community members. We are reviewing everything from curriculum to board policy and from discipline practices to assessment strategies to meet the district's goals.

Our shared experience during the COVID-19 pandemic has shaped each of us differently.

Social media and electronic communications have provided new opportunities for engagement. Zoom board meetings have welcomed more community members than at any other time in our district's history. We've had community Q&As and webinars. Some functions that have shifted out of necessity might continue in a post-COVID period.

In every crisis, opportunity is born. Our aim isn't to return to 2019 but rather to build a better 2021. We aren't going back; we are moving forward.

I am hopeful the level of engagement and interest in your children's schools continues in the future. We miss PTO and ISPTO meetings at our schools, booster-club events and Hilliard Education Foundation celebrations. We can't wait to get back together in support of the young people we serve.

We have hope, live with faith and continue to love our children. Together, we will prepare each of them to be "Ready for Tomorrow."

John Marschhausen is superintendent of Hilliard City Schools.