LISBON - A small but inquisitive crowd gathered in the auditorium of Beaver Local High School to hear district Superintendent Kent Polen deliver a "State of the Schools" address on Thursday night.
Polen announced a pair of new initiatives for the district that he says are geared toward providing a better education for Beaver Local students as well as a better picture of those students' achievements.
Beginning with the 2014-2015 school year, the district will offer high school students the option of completing college coursework with Eastern Gateway Community College while attending high school, making it possible for them to graduate from BLHS with an associate's degree in addition to a high school diploma. The high school's six AP classes and six dual-credit classes toward degrees at Kent State University that are presently offered will continue.
"This will not be an easy track, but I believe that our students are up for the challenge," Polen said. "Not every student will choose this route, but those that do will be prepared to further their education and have better job opportunities."
Polen also announced the creation of a new district report card modeled on the report cards issued annually by the Ohio Department of Education, which measure the various school districts throughout the state against one another in various educational metrics based on standardized tests.
The new report cards are not intended to replace the state report cards but augment the amount of information available to the community about student progress and achievement in the district. "At Beaver Local, we have always done well on these reports, but I have always felt that something was missing," he said. Those missing elements that he foresees include the number of students going on to post-secondary education, the amount of money students earn in scholarships, number of hours spent on volunteer projects.
The final determination of what will appear on these report cards will be made by a committee of whom Polen called "the stakeholders of Beaver Local," including parents, teachers, students and other members of the BL community. He asked for volunteers interested on serving on the committee to contact his office in the near future.
Polen addressed the emergency renewal levy that will appear on the ballot in May. At a meeting prior to the address, the second reading of the levy placement was approved by the board of education. He emphasized that the levy is not a new tax but a renewal that has been approved by district voters since its inception in 1994.
In answer to an unasked question, Polen stated that funds raised from the bond issue passed in 2012 can, by law, only be used for the construction of the new K-12 school facilities and its maintenance. He stated that the district will continue to collect same amount of money as in 1994, even though millage has actually gone down over the last 20 years.
Funds from renewal levy are used for regular district operations, which Polen identified as transportation costs related to the school bus fleet, classroom materials and technology, personnel costs, and maintenance and upkeep of the present school buildings that will remain in use until the new structure is completed in the summer of 2015.
Polen mentioned a state law enacted last year that removes Homestead Act exemptions for property owners age 65 and up, meaning an increase in property tax bills of up to 12.5 percent on new levies. He emphasized that since this is a renewal levy dating back 20 years, its is exempt from this rollback.
"That is a huge benefit to many members of our community," he said. If this levy fails, Polen warned, and a new levy must be crafted in its place to make up the budgetary shortfall, that exemption cannot be implemented, and it will cost seniors living in the district more.
Polen also Provided information and fielded questions regarding the new K-12 school presently under construction on Bell School Road. Showed extensive slides of the school's layout and exterior views computer-rendered by Olsavsky Jaminet Architects, which designed the building.
Among the more controversial features of the 246,393 square-foot school is the pod layout of learning areas planned for the building, which are larger and more open than a traditional classroom. "These class spaces were designed by teachers," Polen said.
There are movable walls in some of these learning studios, he added, but there are no glass walls, which have been rumored to be part of the design. Many have argued that such a feature would be distracting and not conducive to learning.
What it all adds up to, Polen said, was putting students first and preparing them for the future that they will live in rather than the past they we remember.