Olentangy Schools redistricting plan starts as 16th elementary's construction begins

16th elementary school brings need for new boundary maps

Jim Fischer
ThisWeek

The anticipated opening of a new elementary school in 2021, the first since Heritage Elementary School opened in 2011, means a redistricting process for Olentangy Schools.

The as-yet-unnamed building, which will be the district’s 16th elementary school, will be constructed on 14 acres on Peachblow Road west of Piatt Road, in the new Berlin Meadows development.

Berlin Township trustees in May had approved plans for the development – which will be between Shanahan and Peachblow roads and will include a planned extension of North Road.

The school’s main entrance will be off the new North Road extension.

The school will be the first built with funding approved by voters in April. The three-part ballot issue included a $134.7 million bond issue to fund the construction of a new middle school and two elementary schools.

A sign marks the location of Olentangy Schools' 16th elementary school on Peachblow Road west of Piatt Road.

The district’s school board heard plans for the redistricting process during its Oct. 8 meeting.

Redistricting is done “as few times as possible,” Randy Wright, the district’s chief of administrative services, told board members. Guidelines set by the board in 2015 drive the process, he said, including creating and maintaining a strong sense of community, optimal building utilization, effective feeder patterns to middle and high schools, and transportation and safety.

“The (redistricting) committee and our administration consider things as detailed as buses crossing railroad tracks or where a left turn without a traffic light might be difficult for our buses,” board member Julie Wagner Feasel told ThisWeek.

Olentangy works with Cooperative Strategies, a California- and Colorado-based professional consulting firm for school districts, to create enrollment projections for the district, accounting for planned subdivisions, averaging how many students to expect from future development and even examining birth-rate data, Krista Davis, the district’s chief communications officer, told ThisWeek.

“These five- to 10-year enrollment predictions are factored into redistricting decisions,” Davis said.

The redistricting committee, which comprises mostly district residents guided by staff, was set to begin meeting in October, Davis told board members at the Oct. 8 meeting.

“We are planning on having the committee be (composed) of approximately 12 people versus 60-75 from the last redistricting effort, due to the condensed timeline – due to the delay in the primary and vote being certified – and the ability to only meet virtually,” Davis told ThisWeek.

Still, Davis said, she expects the committee to hit the ground running.

“I can say that there are always things learned from the past that we can apply as we move forward,” she said.

Davis said she hopes to present the first scenarios for redistricting to the board in January, although it’s likely the committee will continue to work through March. She said the school’s timeline includes hiring school leaders by the end of 2020 and announcing a name and mascot in early 2021.

“At each opportunity, we take a global view (of school attendance boundaries), but we do not want to go any broader than is needed,” Wright said.

During a June board meeting, Superintendent Mark Raiff said the site was chosen for its location in an area of rapid growth. Nearby Heritage, Arrowhead and Cheshire elementary schools are either at 800 students each or are projected to reach that benchmark in the next two years, he said.

Wagner Feasel said she understands the impact redistricting has on families, but she has full confidence in the process.

“If the district was doing something wrong by way of redistricting, we would see it in the academic results,” she told ThisWeek, citing consistently high marks from the State Board of Education. “As we’ve opened building after building, our academic numbers have only increased.”

Wagner Feasel said she has experienced the process from a parent’s perspective, mentioning that she first became active in the district on a redistricting committee.

“It seems parents are always more anxious about it than the students,” she said. “That said, we take existing staff to new schools when possible to help with a sense of familiarity. Also, our buildings have similar designs, looks and layouts, which can help students feel comfortable in a new school.”

Redistricting is a fact of life in a growing district, Wagner Feasel said.

editorial@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekNews