Pickerington Schools in 2021: District's focus is on growth, finances, technology

Nate Ellis
ThisWeek group
Toll Gate Elementary fourth-graders Hayden Estep, front, and Ellie Hartley work on assignments with district-issued laptops. District officials said the ongoing use and expansion of technology in the classroom and through virtual learning will be a priority in 2021.

Refining teaching-and-learning models with the use of technology, planning for growth and managing expenses will be among top objectives for Pickerington Schools in 2021. 

Since the onset of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, school districts have had to react quickly to a changing landscape for delivering education. 

Sabrina Woodruff, the district’s assistant superintendent and its chief academic officer, said navigating that delivery through ongoing transitions from in-person classes to online learning will be the district’s top priority in 2021. 

“The district continues to refine and make improvements to our instructional model,” Woodruff said. “Due to the nature of our strategy to build our courses online with both face-to-face and virtual components, this work will continue second semester. 

“Our instructional model allows us to pivot to alternative-learning environments, but the work is comprehensive and requires collaboration across the district to implement well.” 

Much of that swivel and sway will involve technology. 

The district began distributing laptop computers and tablets to students during the 2016-17 school year, and by the 2017-18 year, all students began receiving them. 

The Pickerington district has been recognized in recent years for implementing technology into learning models, including in 2018, when it earned a Distinguished District Award from the International Society for Technology in Education and a Digital Schools District Award from the National School Boards Association for exemplary use of technology. 

There have been numerous other technology-based accolades since 2017, when the district received a Digital Content and Curriculum Achievement Award from the Center for Digital Education. It has worn a Digital Curriculum Strategy Award for three consecutive years from The Learning Counsel. 

Most recently, the district received a 2020 Champion District Seal from EverFi for “exemplary commitment to the whole child through the use of technology.” 

“We are continuing to provide all Pickerington Local School District students a device that supports our version of blended learning,” said Brian Seymour, director of instructional technology for the district. “This plan has put PLSD ahead in terms of virtual learning and with the creation of the PLSD Flexible Learning Plan. 

“We continue to evaluate digital learning programs to bring the best technology and tools to all of our students,” he said. “We have updated our computer science curriculum, ranging from elementary students programming robots to middle-school students coding and flying drones to a new partnership with the University of Cincinnati to bring the Early IT program to PLSD high school students.” 

Another top initiative for the district in 2021 will be addressing enrollment growth. A study by Cooperative Strategies during the 2018-19 school projected enrollment would rise from 10,600 to 12,400 students by the 2028-29 school year. 

At the forefront of the plan will be a May 4 bond issue. The millage hasn’t been set, but district officials said it will mirror an unsuccessful bond issue on the November 2020 ballot that would have generated $95,000 annually over 38 years. 

The money from the bond, if approved this spring, would be used to build a third junior high school and to construct additions to existing school buildings. It also would provide funding for related athletics facility upgrades. 

“If the bond issue had passed, new secure entryways would have been constructed at both high schools,” said Crystal Davis, public relations director for the district. “The need for these important modifications continues, but the district does not have the funds to cover construction costs.” 

Pickerington schools also face financial challenges to its budget for day-to-day operations, according to Treasurer Ryan Jenkins. 

The district’s five-year forecast, Jenkins said, shows cash reserves are dwindling as expenditures exceed revenues. 

“We must carefully monitor operational revenues and spending as we move forward,” he said. “We know that the forecast shows that by the 2022-2023 school year, we may need to seek operational funding. 

“Historically, we have not sought operating funds from our community since August of 2011,” he said. “We take the stewardship of our community’s resources very seriously and stretch those dollars as far as we can in serving our community.” 

Jenkins said the fact that 2021 will mark 10 years since the district last sought a tax increase to fund things such as teacher salaries, instructional and pupil support, technology and transportation, shows how the district has tried to efficiently use tax dollars and avoid asking the community for more.   

“So if we do have to go to the ballot for operating funds in 2022 or 2023, we will have made our last levy last for over 10 years,” he said. “As always, any decision to go back to the ballot will be combined with a diligent and fiscally responsible approach to our operational expenditures.”

nellis@thisweeknews.com 

@ThisWeekNate