The year ahead in Butler County schools: Construction, new leaders, student testing

Coming over the 2018 horizon are some major changes for Butler County schools.

And the county’s largest school system – 16,000-student Lakota – may lead the way as its new superintendent accelerates the sweeping transformations he began in fall 2017.

ExploreMORE: New Lakota leader launches new social media campaigns

Other districts will see new school buildings, a new in-school clinic for students while newly elected school board members may change the governing of some school systems.

And some of 2017’s hot button issues – complaints about excessive, state-mandated testing, school policies toward transgender students and school security – will also extend into 2018.

Year of change

At Ohio’s eighth largest school system, Lakota’s coming changes will impact the most residents in the county, and new Superintendent Matt Miller and other Lakota officials see 2018 as a year of change.

“Since the fall, our new superintendent, along with school board members, have embarked on a listening tour with the staff and community,” said Lakota Spokesperson Betsy Fuller.

“As a result, we have chosen three areas as a starting point to move the district forward, beginning with the 2018-2019 school year: All-day kindergarten for every student along with daily specials (music, art and physical education) for students in grades K-6, all without significant financial impact. And we are also looking at increase access to technology for secondary grades.”

In a letter sent to Lakota parents last week, Miller stated: “For the 2018-2019 school year, the district will adjust its building configuration so that kindergarten-through-second grade will attend early childhood schools. Grades three-through-six will attend elementary schools. After an extensive facilities study, the district determined that two additional early childhood schools are needed to accommodate all-day kindergarten. As a result, Heritage and Hopewell elementary schools will change to early childhood schools in the fall.”

ExploreMORE: Lakota schools leader announces changes for next school year

Miller, who in less than a half school year has already expanded Lakota’s social media reach more than years of previous superintendents combined, said “these initial changes put us in a position to continue enhancing our students’ educational experience in a way that competes with the very best districts in Ohio.”

Middletown schools transformation

Big changes are also coming next year to Middletown as the district finishes the largest and most ambitious school construction project in its history.

ExploreMORE: Middletown High School renovations impresses students

A $96 million transformation of the Middletown High School campus will see the opening of a new middle school in August 2018 and completed expansion and renovation of the adjacent high school. And the district’s first in-school health clinic will be constructed in the high school.

MORE: New Middletown sports arena thrills fans

ExploreMORE: Middletown’s 1st in-school clinic coming to high school in 2018

New Middletown Superintendent Marlon Styles Jr. plans to continue the numerous reforms – many of them focused on upgrading learning technology and expanding the district’s digital footprint on social media - launched shortly after he took office in fall 2017.

In 2018, Middletown “will share its three-year strategic plan to stakeholders,” Styles said.

“The four focus areas are Student & Family Wellness, Instructional Excellence, Valuing Diversity, and Communication & Community Engagement. The district will be executing a large scale communication and engagement plan to share the direction set by the new three-year strategic plan.”

ExploreMORE: Middletown Schools leader wins national award for digital outreach

Fairfield schools strive for ‘best year ever’

The 10,000-student Fairfield Schools will be looking for another director of business operations — Tom Weiser is retiring — in the wake of the successful building and opening of three new schools in fall 2017.

ExploreMORE: Fairfield official behind 3 new schools retiring in 2018

Fairfield Superintendent Billy Smith is also looking forward to presenting a “state of Fairfield Schools” to the school board and public on what he describes as the “the best school year ever.”

The district will continue its efforts in working to prevent teen suicides. In the last school year the district created its first Mental Health Committee, addressing among other issues student bullying.

ExploreMORE: Fairfield creates 1st anti-bullying district position

“This committee is planning a series of events (in 2018) for our community. The first event will be in early March, and the topic will be suicide prevention/intervention. Suicide has become an epidemic across the country, and this community event will provide families with support, information, and resources,” said Smith.

New board members bring changes

The new year will also bring new faces on many area school boards, and those new additions could bring with them new or different student policies.

The recent, narrow defeat of a proposed Lakota Board of Education transgender student policy expansion will likely be revisited in 2018. With two new board members elected in November — Kelley Casper and Brad Lovell — their presence may alter the board’s original 3-2 vote rejection of enlarging its current policies designed to protect the rights of transgender students.

Hamilton school leader takes on state

The ongoing controversy over state-mandated student testing and the annual school district report cards compiled from their results is expected to stretch into 2018 as Ohio Department of Education officials react to a growing chorus of disenchantment from school leaders statewide.

Locally, no one has been more vocal on these issues than Hamilton Schools’ Superintendent Tony Orr.

ExploreMORE: Hamilton Schools leader takes unusual step to criticize state testing

Orr has aggressively and publicly touted the 10,000-student district’s performance on the annual report cards as better than graded by the state, pointing to Hamilton Schools showing improvement in 18 out of 23 tested areas.

Orr previously said “in many areas we improved by more than 10 percent. Our teachers and our children are doing great things in spite of the misleading tests the state is forcing upon on our community.”

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