Olentangy Schools in 2021: District ready to learn from, but move beyond COVID-19

Jim Fischer
ThisWeek
Construction continues, as shown Oct. 21, on Olentangy Schools' 16th elementary school, which is being built on a 14-acre site along Peachblow Road in Lewis Center.

Olentangy Schools will open a new elementary school in 2021, its first in a decade.

District officials hope it will open with a full complement of students attending in-person classes.

Much of the story of 2020 involved educating students during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, from closed schools in the spring to multiple attendance plans in the fall.

Superintendent Mark Raiff credited teachers, administrators and building staffs, along with students and their families, for their hard work in the difficult circumstances presented by the pandemic.

Even if school attendance returns to “normal” for the start of the 2021-22 school year, he said, the district has learned and is learning things that will benefit students in a post-pandemic future.

“We’re hopeful for the vaccine. We’re hopeful we can keep moving toward full attendance. We’re hopeful that next school year is not impacted” by the virus, Raiff said. “But we’re learning a lot.”

Not the least of which is the need to innovate with technology, Raiff said.

“We’ve been pushing the issue of utilizing technology to improve instruction and learning,” he said, adding that teachers, students and their families have taken to the task at hand.

Raiff cited a self-paced science class developed by two middle school teachers as an example of the applied use of technology to benefit instruction.

Raiff said the district is considering maintaining a committed distance-learning environment even after full in-person attendance is possible.

“Our team that developed that model did and is doing an excellent job,” Raiff said. “It hasn’t been perfect, and we’ve made a lot of adjustments and improvements. But we did a survey, and the overall satisfaction with the CDL offering among our families is 4.2 out of 5.

“We basically created an online school district for 5,300 students, pre-K through (grade) 12,” Raiff said. “And with 3,000 elementary students currently attending (CDL), if that level of interest were to continue, it could allow us to delay building the district’s 17th elementary school by a couple years.”

The district’s 16th elementary school is on target to open for the start of the next school year.

Raiff said district officials are “confident in our ability to open a building” despite the pandemic and length of time since the last new elementary school was opened in 2010.

Greta Gnagy, currently assistant principal at Orange Middle School, recently was named principal of the new elementary school.

It's under construction on 14 acres in the new Berlin Meadows development in Berlin Township, near the intersection of Peachblow Road and a planned extension of North Road.

Gnagy said she w begin working on building a staff this month. The timeline for the new building includes announcing a school name this month and setting a redistricting plan in March.

Raiff said 2021 will find the district breaking ground on its next middle school, the district’s sixth.

Voters approved the project last spring -- in an election delayed by the pandemic -- as part of a bond issue to fund a middle school and two elementary schools.

The middle school site will be off Piatt Road, near Berlin High School and Cheshire Elementary School, Raiff said.

In the immediate future, the district will continue to assess national, state and local pandemic statistics in determining how students will attend school.

“We’ve said all along we would analyze the data, especially the local data,” Raiff said. “With our current numbers, we can’t justify not having our kids in school at least half the time.”

Regardless of new buildings or uncertain attendance models, Raiff said, 2021 will find the district focused on its mission to “facilitate maximum learning for every student.”

Under trying circumstances, the community has rallied around its schools and its students, Raiff said.

“There’s no place, no city or township, named Olentangy, but when people say where they live, they say Olentangy. And that’s because of the schools,” he said. “Even in the toughest of times, we’ve learned that we’ve all done the hard work because of the kids. We can be proud of that.”

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