Upper Arlington Schools in 2021: District to focus on construction, diversity, strategic plan

Nate Ellis
ThisWeek group
An aerial shot provides an overhead look at the new Upper Arlington High School building under construction. The project is one of the final pieces of the district's $235-million effort to build and renovate the high school and five elementary buildings. It is expected to be open by the start of the 2021-22 school year.

Amid the projected conclusion of building reconstructions and renovations, Upper Arlington Schools leaders will continue to focus on furthering the district’s strategic plan in 2021. 

In August 2019, backed by a 5.17-mill bond passed by voters in November 2017, the district launched $235 million in projects to rebuild and renovate the high school and five elementary buildings. 

The work proved to be one of the few things the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic did not interrupt as each project has moved forward on schedule and within the budget provided by the bond. 

With more than half of the work completed at the outset of the 2020-21 school year, Superintendent Paul Imhoff said each of the six buildings will be ready to go by the 2021-22 school year. 

“The new Greensview Elementary School and Wickliffe Progressive Elementary School were completed on time in August of 2020,” he said. “The renovation at Tremont Elementary School and the addition at Barrington Elementary School were also completed on time in August.  

“The renovation at Barrington, the new Windermere Elementary School and the new Upper Arlington High School all remain on schedule to open for the 2021-22 school year.” 

Upper Arlington Schools officials say the project to build a new Upper Arlington High School is progressing on schedule and is expected to open in time for the beginning of the 2021-22 school year. Shown here, work continues to the interior of the building.

Imhoff said in addition to students and staff moving back into a renovated Barrington and new buildings at Windermere and UAHS in August 2021, the existing high school will be demolished in the fall. The old school site, which was a former cemetery for the family of Pleasant Litchford, will continue to be examined for historical artifacts. 

According to accounts from the Upper Arlington Historical Society, Imhoff and local authors Diane Kelly Runyon and Kim Shoemaker Starr, Litchford was a former slave who bought his freedom. He then migrated to Ohio from Virginia, became a master blacksmith and owned land, including a graveyard, where the existing UAHS was built at 1650 Ridgeview Road. 

“As the existing high school comes down in 2021, we will continue to investigate the site of the Litchford family cemetery, honoring the people once laid to rest there and commemorating the importance of that site and the contributions of the Litchford family,” Imhoff said. 

The district also is continuing to adjust teaching and learning models in response to the pandemic. 

That means that for the foreseeable future, students will take classes online and rotate between attending in-person instruction twice a week and learning remotely the other three days. 

“We are constantly working to identify and address any learning gaps or social (and) emotional needs that may develop during this time,” said Andy Hatton, associate superintendent of learning and leadership. “When we are able to return to a more traditional learning environment, we will again use multiple data points to determine any additional supports that may still be needed as students make that transition.” 

As for other initiatives in 2021, Imhoff said the district will continue to focus on continuous improvement among all groups of students and staff. 

To do that, it will continue to analyze “whole learning” practices, he said. 

According to the district’s strategic plan, that means “greater integration of rigorous academic content with deeper learning skills through a variety of engaging experiences, environments and relationships.” 

Additionally, Imhoff said, the district wants to further develop programs and resources to support student and staff “well-being.” 

The strategic plan calls for those programs and resources to support individuals’ feelings of safety and connectedness “where they can be authentic, supported by an inclusive culture that intentionally promotes relationships, builds trust and celebrates individuals.” 

The strategic plan also says the district should carve out academic programs that strike “harmony between school and personal time that allows for satisfaction in all areas of life.” 

A big part of those efforts in 2021, Imhoff said, will be related to the Nov. 19 hiring of Matthew L. Boaz as the district’s first director of diversity, equity and inclusion. 

Kathy Jenny, associate superintendent of human resources and operations, said Boaz’s role is to “provide leadership to support, recognize and celebrate the dignity of all people.” 

Imhoff said Boaz will serve as a leader and facilitator, as well as a resource for students, staff and the community to help them better understand and address issues of diversity, equity and inclusion. 

“We are excited that … Matt Boaz has joined the team,” Imhoff said. “Matt will play a key role in advancing our work around diversity, equity and inclusion in all areas.”

nellis@thisweeknews.com 

@ThisWeekNate