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Tuesday, August 20th, 2013

Local school leaders start year amid uncertainties

By Shelley Grieshop

Luke Garman, 9, waits for his sister Elizabeth to place her bicycle in the bike. . .

School administrators may be sharing new-year jitters with their students this week as they face state-initiated changes and ongoing financial woes.
Superintendent Greg Puthoff at Parkway Local Schools said it's been difficult making fiscal decisions for his district when funding remains a mystery.
"State funding is so unpredictable. We have been told that we won't know our exact funding for this year until the beginning of November," he said. "How do you try to make sound financial decisions when 53 percent of our yearly budget is not determined until a third of the school year is complete?"
St. Henry schools superintendent Rod Moorman said he worries about the "attack" on public education by state legislators who give public school dollars to failing charter schools.
"Excellent school districts don't get any consideration for additional funding so we can keep reaching higher ...," he said.
Also on administrators' minds as students head back to school is the Ohio's Teacher Evaluation System - a new method districts must use that grades teachers on performance and the academic growth of their students.
Puthoff said current evaluation methods involving community values have proven successful for many years. Why change?
"Now we have to evaluate teachers using Ohio Department of Education requirements that were dictated to the department by our state legislatures and governor," he said. "They don't know or care about our community values and they don't know proven educational practices."
Schools locally and across the country have stepped up in-depth staff training to deal with building intruders, especially those with weapons, on the heels of the Sandy Hook Elementary tragedy in December.
"School and student safety is always a concern," said Shawn Brown, superintendent of St. Marys schools.
All teachers in his district have participated in Alert-Lockdown-Inform-Counter-Evacuate training, he said. Also, the school, city police, fire department, Auglaize County EMA personnel, local hospital officials and others meet monthly to discuss student safety, Brown added.
One of the biggest issues this year affecting St. Marys schools is busing, he said.
"With the levy failure last May and the implementation of state minimum busing, students getting to and from school certainly ranks high on my list," he said.
School administrators will monitor the shuttle buses operating from the old high school site to the new grade 6-12 complex along U.S. 33, and other pick-up and drop-off zones, he explained.
"As a group, we will meet to discuss how well, or not so well, it happened," he said, adding problems will be addressed.
All districts are dealing with several other state-mandated changes that start this year, including revised learning standards and assessments and new, interactive A-F district report cards.
Mike Pohlman, superintendent of Marion Local Schools, said it's been a challenge to meet all the new deadlines and incorporate every change.
"It is unbelievable the amount of change that has taken place in education in the past few years," he said. "Between passing policies, meeting with the (teachers) union, submitting information to the state and trying to keep on top of changes legislators have made or are planning to make, it is a full-time job."
Fort Recovery Local Schools Superintendent Shelly Vaughn said teachers in her district have worked very hard to understand the changes and make the transition. Still, she's afraid that "during the shuffle" the school's report card grade may drop.
"It's a perfect storm all happening at once," she said. "We have to communicate that publicly so people understand what's going on."
Keeping residents informed is paramount, Minster schools superintendent Brenda Boeke agreed.
"Being sure we communicate the many changes taking place in education with all stakeholders, along with analyzing our fiscal efficiency and productivity, will always remain among the top concerns of the district," she said.
Coldwater schools superintendent Rich Seas said administrators and teachers will remain successful if they use the right approach.
"Much of what anyone does begins with a positive attitude," he said. "I think our staff understands the importance of being professional, staying positive and creating an atmosphere that is conducive to learning."
Howard Overman, superintendent of New Bremen Local Schools, is confident the new year will go smoothly.
"I tell our staff to do the best you can and everything will take care of itself," he said.
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