Southwest Ohio’s largest suburban school district opens its doors Thursday, Aug. 16, on a new school year and is doing so in a way never seen before.
The 16,500-student Lakota Schools — the eighth largest school district in Ohio — will also be unveiling a series of changes affecting some of its 23 school buildings.
Some of those transformations were unveiled during the Butler County district’s second annual convocation event at Lakota West High School earlier this week that saw 1,700 school staffers — and hundreds of students — rally to celebrate the new school year.
“The start of a new school year is always exciting,” said Lakota Superintendent Matt Miller. “Bringing all 1,700 staff members together to kick-off the year takes it to another level. We have a lot of great things planned for 2018-2019 (school year) and I’m looking forward to seeing the new innovative ideas our staff brings to the table for our students.”
The school opening also marks Miller’s second with Lakota and the summer break included a continuation of his aggressive leadership on transforming how the district operates, including a series of new programs incorporating social media and digital learning.
Among those are: new grade configurations for some schools; new opening day procedures that depart from traditional practices and are designed to enhance staff and student enthusiasm for team building; and the first offering of all-day kindergarten.
And like other Butler County school systems, improved security has been a high-profile topic this summer.
Lakota recently announced it will add to the number of armed officers patrolling its schools.
Betsy Fuller, spokeswoman for Lakota, said “the first two days of school are going to be very different this year.”
“Instead of opening up the books and reviewing the syllabus, the focus will be on setting the tone for the new school year, building relationships between teachers and students, as well as building community within each school. Every building is planning their own events,” said Fuller.
The new grade configuration will have the greatest impact on two schools — with Heritage and Hopewell changing from elementary buildings to early childhood centers.
Fuller said students in all-day kindergarten through sixth grade will now have class time in six rotating daily “specials” that include art, physical education, music, tech, STEAM lab (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) and health and wellness.
And starting in September students in grades seven and eight will have access to district-supplied laptops as part of a pilot program designed to enhance and modernize learning.
Lakota officials describe the new program as “supporting the development of key student skills and responsibilities necessary to navigate the digital transformation of today and the highly-skilled, technology driven global world of tomorrow.”
Fuller said the district’s junior schools will also be the sites for other innovations as each school’s media center — once known as libraries — will feature upgraded and expanded learning services.
“The media centers at all four junior schools have been transformed into innovation hubs, which will be a place for teachers to bring their classes for collaboration and, as the name implies, innovation. Virtual reality stations and green screens are just part of the things planned for the spaces,” she said.
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