Northeastern school board plans to keep high schools split

Published: Wednesday, April 19, 2017 @ 11:14 PM
Updated: Thursday, April 20, 2017 @ 4:34 PM

The Northeastern Local School Board likely will ask voters to support a bond issue to build two new pre-kindergarten through 12th grade schools, keeping the district’s high schools split.

The board voted 4-1 Wednesday night to allow Superintendent John Kronour to ask the Ohio School Facilities Commission for money to build the two schools. The schools are projected to cost about $116 million.

READ MORE: Northeastern board members debate $100M new school plans

The school board has debated for several years whether Northeastern should consolidate the district’s two high schools. The district is the second largest in Clark County and the last here to have multiple high schools. The school board held several community forums on the issue, and last week said the feedback they got indicates that the best chance at new buildings is to keep the district divided.

“I can speak for every one of us that we read (emails) carefully and considered all aspects of every one of them,” board member Steve Schwitzable said. “There was nothing that caused me to change my mind. I am still of the opinion I think one high school building is the best educationally, financially. But I don’t think it will pass and I think we can do very well with two pre-k through 12th buildings.”

The plan would call for one school to be built in Northridge close to Kenton Ridge High School and the other will be built in South Vienna near Northeastern High School. That’s contingent on voters approving a $77.5 million bond issue this November.

The state likely will kick in $38.5 million if the bond issue passes.

RELATED: Northeastern to survey residents on $100M new schools plan

School Board President Chris James and board members Joel Augustus, Jill Parker and Schwitzable voted for the two new schools. James and Parker said they believed two schools were the best option for students in the district, while Augusts and Schwitzable said they believed one high school was likely better for education, but they didn’t think that voters would approve a bond issue asking to consolidate schools.

This option was supported over a second option to build three new school buildings in the district. That would have included two new pre-k through eighth-grade buildings and one new high school, costing the district about $123.8 million — about $83.8 million would have fallen to taxpayers to cover.

That plan was supported by board Vice President Jeff Caivano, who said he wants to consolidate the high schools to offer more opportunities for students. He called the decision to build two new buildings instead of the one high school an “awful mistake.”

EARLIER COVERAGE: Northeastern residents split on $100M plan for new schools

He said picking the two building option because voters would be more likely to support it wasn’t a good idea and that the board has a responsibility to choose the best option for the students regardless of public opinion.

“Neither one of these plans are going to be easy to pass,” he said. “I feel it is our job as a board not to sit back as a board and say, ‘We know it’s not best academically, financially, but we think this is going to pass.’”

Caivano said if the two schools combined, he believed it could be the crown jewel of Clark County offering students a competitive curriculum along with saving hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in staffing and services.

“Let’s build an academic powerhouse,” he said before the vote.

The vote doesn’t put the bond issue on the November ballot, it was only to prompt Kronour to start the process with the Ohio School Facilities Commission to get money for the schools. Board members will have to vote again later on a bond issue.

Greenon residents to vote on $54M school plan Tuesday

Published: Thursday, April 27, 2017 @ 6:00 AM

Greenon Local School leaders hope voters will approve a $36 million bond issue to allow them to build a new pre-k through 12th grade building on the current Indian Valley site.

The bond issue on the Tuesday, May 2, ballot, is for 6.98 mills, which would cost a taxpayer who owns a $100,000 property in the school district a little more than $20 a month. For seniors with a homestead exemption, the added cost will be less. The total cost of the project if approved would be $54 million, with the state picking up $18 million through the Ohio School Facility Commission.

MORE: Greenon discusses plans for new schools in forum

Greenon went to voters seeking new schools in 2013 and failed. Last year leaders held several community forums to get input on how to improve schools they say are old and cannot support modern teaching technology. The district currently has three buildings: Enon Primary, Indian Valley Intermediate and Greenon High School.

“The high school is rated by the school facility commission as the building with the highest need,” Superintendent Brad Silvus said. “And not surprisingly Enon and Indian Valley are very close behind.”

The district saw support for new schools during the school forums. Many said they wanted to be sure their children would get an education in a functional school building. However, others said they didn’t believe the community can afford to build new schools.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Greenon school leaders debate building choices as residents split

Enon resident Greg Goeber said he’s retired and cannot afford the increase in his property taxes.

“I am tired of property taxes always going up,” he said. “I will vote against the issue because it affects me drastically.”

Greenon should have further explored an income tax to pay for new schools, Goeber said, instead of taxing the property of residents who simply live in the district. The district needs new schools, he said, but it needs a different plan to pay for them.

“An income tax would give us old folks a reason to vote,” Goeber said.

Silvus said the district talked about an income tax, but during the forums residents expressed more support for a property tax.

Another concern some parents and community members have is that the district wants to build one large school instead of keeping three schools. Some parents have voiced worries about having the younger children in the same building as high school students.

Cara Grisby is a parent of an Enon second grader and a supporter of the bond issue. She said she has heard some parents take issue with the one school model. However, she said mentoring opportunities would be valuable for the district.

“When my daughter was in kindergarten, fourth graders came over and did some STEM activities and she is still talking about it,” Grisby said. “She likes being taught by the older kids. I don’t think it is going to be an issue at all.”

Grisby said the current schools aren’t good enough and the district needs to pass the bond issue.

Silvus said the district will make sure younger students aren’t walking the same halls as high school students.

“When we get to the design phase, we will be able to design it into wings where there is a pre-k through fourth grade wing, a fifth through eighth grade wing and a ninth through 12th grade wing,” Silvus said. “There will be minimal interaction between ages.”

RELATED: Survey points to two-school option for Greenon Local Schools

For a district the size of Greenon, one building is a lot more efficient, Silvus said.

“We will only have one facility to maintain as oppose to three separate and then it also allows us to better utilize our staff,” he said. “Right now we have staff members who have to travel between buildings two or three times a day and they will be all under one roof.”

The margin between the district winning or losing at the ballot might be slim, Silvus said, and they need parents who are willing to spend some time at the polls.

“We are hopeful that all of our parents will get out to vote,” he said. “We know there is a large group of supporters for Greenon Local Schools and the big thing is to make sure they are active and get out to the polls and vote. If we can get those people out I think we will have a good shot at this.”

Continuing Coverage

The Springfield News-Sun has covered the Greenon Local Schools pursuit for new schools for several years and will continue to dig into the issue.

By the Numbers

$54 million: The total cost to build a new pre-k through 12th grade school building.

$36 million: The total amount that Greenon residents will have to pay over 37 years

$18 million: The amount that Ohio will pay for Greenon’s new school through the Ohio School Facility Commission

Change likely to continue at Urbana University amid new leadership

Published: Wednesday, April 26, 2017 @ 8:00 PM

            Urbana University may become a branch campus of Franklin University in Columbus. JEFF GUERINI/STAFF
            Jeff Guerini

Some students at Urbana University have questions about the changes at the campus but said they also hope it will bring more funding to the school.

Urbana’s president resigned Tuesday after two years with the school as the university potentially shifts to a branch campus of Franklin University in Columbus.

Franklin acquired the smaller campus in 2014 after Urbana University faced years of lean enrollment and serious financial struggles. As part of the deal, Urbana now functions as a division of Franklin, but retains its name.

RELATED : Urbana University president resigns

New leadership was announced the same day as the president’s departure. Christopher Washington is now the chief executive officer of Urbana.

The Columbus university has invested about $10 million dollars since it acquired the Urbana school.

Physical and technology upgrades have been in the past three years, Washington said.

“It’s fair to say we made those investments because we believe in the potential of serving that university,” he said.

Students have noticed the changes and heard about the possibility of more, they said on campus Wednesday.

RELATED : Financial troubles lead to purchase of Urbana U.

“I’ve heard a lot of positive things like bringing in a lot of funding and things like that,” said Elizabeth Phelps, a junior at Urbana.

The English major said she isn’t worried and thinks the changes will be good.

Athletes are excited, too, but they want to know more.

“I heard it’s supposed to get better. So, I’m really hoping that it’s true,” Holly Fisher, a sophomore swimmer for Urbana.

She also heard that a coffee shop might be built on campus. She’s the most excited about that.

However, she can’t forget what happened in the previous school year.

“A few of the sports here got eliminated last year and I really just hope that they keep the sports, keep them how they are,” Fisher said.

Another athlete remembers that as well and worries about her college athletics career.

“I’m a little worried that the cross country program might go away because we are not getting very many people,” said Ashley Long, a sophomore with the cross country.

She said her sport isn’t very popular at the school.

Sports are safe, Washington said, and he wants to add to the athletic department. He would like to add sports that complement the ones already on campus like track and field.

The two entities currently undergo a separate accreditation process, said Linda Steele, vice president of enrollment and student affairs at Franklin, a private nonprofit institution based in Columbus. If Urbana becomes a branch campus, she said, the Champaign County school would no longer be accredited separately, and would fall under Franklin’s process. Urbana has been under academic probation since November 2014.

If the branch campus status is approved, Steele said it would be a significant step toward ending the probation and allow Urbana University to add new academic programs and initiatives.

Changes will continue, Washington said, but they depend on future decisions made by other agencies. Franklin will likely learn this June if Urbana will become a branch campus.

“As a result of the determination that it is a branch campus, we can then add more programs, establish these partnerships and move some initiatives forward,” Washington said.

Ohio launches ‘Purple Star’ to recognize military-friendly schools

Published: Tuesday, April 25, 2017 @ 6:13 PM
Updated: Tuesday, April 25, 2017 @ 6:13 PM

The state has launched a Purple Star Award to recognize military-friendly schools in Ohio, school and military leaders say.

In an announcement Tuesday at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, officials pointed to the challenges children in military families face as many transfer to multiple schools during a parent’s career in uniform and deal with fitting in to a new culture or a parent deployed to a war zone.

“I think what we’re seeing is that military students have specific needs, different needs than other students,” said Paolo DeMaria, state superintendent of public instruction.

“We recognize that in order to create the conditions for them to be successful in school sometimes it takes a little bit of special focus and we want to recognize these schools that have a large number of these students and are making a difference by doing some things to provide that special attention,” he added.

RELATED: Graduation requirements may change for Ohio high school juniors

A school must reapply after two years to keep the designation. To be eligible for a Purple Star, a school must have a liaison on staff for military families and the school. The staffer must complete professional development work, tell teachers and administrators of military children in the school system, and the district have a website page connected to resources for military families, among other factors.

The state says 34,000 students in Ohio have a parent on active duty or in the reserve or National Guard. Students in military families may transfer six to nine times during their K-12 education years. Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, with a workforce of about 27,000, has hundreds of students from military families in area schools.

Navy Chief Petty Officer Amy L. Johnson, 40, a single a parent of four children, knows the challenges and hardships of transferring children to different schools in different states.

In a 21-year naval career, Johnson has transferred seven times, and lived in Washington, Pennsylvania, Virginia and now Ohio, and deployed to Iraq and Pakistan.

Areas isolated from the military aren’t familiar with what the service members face, she said.

“I’ve pushed myself on schools just to be involved,” said Johnson, today assigned to the Navy Operational Support Center in Columbus. “You have to.”

An eldest son with special needs faced the biggest obstacles in high school, she said. “The support wasn’t there for him when I deployed,” she said.

Steven Wyrick has seen both sides. The retired Air Force chief master sergeant and father of two adult children has taught at Wayne High School in Huber Heights for 15 years.

Students in military families who arrive in new schools have to learn to adapt in a new setting and culture, meet new people while leaving old friends behind, and try to transfer academic credits that may not be recognized in another school district, the English teacher said.

“These are real problems that have to be worked out,” said Wyrick, 61.

WRIGHT-PATT NEWS: Top Air Force general says ‘all programs at risk’

A Purple Star Advisory Board, composed of staff members with the state departments of Education, Higher Education, Veterans Services and the adjutant general of the National Guard, will determine which schools meet the criteria. Work began last year to launch the award, officials said.

Clark County native finds success in costume design, on red carpets

Published: Monday, April 24, 2017 @ 3:56 PM

            Megan Knowles, right, stands next to actress Alexandra Billings, who is wearing one of her dresses. Contributed

A 2008 Shawnee High School graduate was recently recognized for career as a costume and fashion designer.

Megan Knowles was noted as a distinguished alumni in a Sinclair Community College address on April 17 that for her work that includes designing dresses for red carpet events.

Knowles grew up in Clark County. She started designing dresses as a hobby and work has been featured in five red carpet events, including two Emmy awards, two Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation awards and a Screen Actors Guild ceremony.

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Her dresses have also found favor with Alexandra Billings, who is the second openly trans woman to have played a transgender character on television and is most famous for her role in the critically acclaimed show “Transparent.”

Knowles first met Billings while she was pursuing a Master’s degree in fine arts at California State University, Long Beach and they soon formed a friendship.

“We were kind of joking one time and I was like, ‘Hey, if you ever make it big, let me know and I’ll make you a dress,’ then she contacted me when she went to the Emmy awards,” Knowles said.

Having an early passion in theater combined with growing up in greater Springfield exposed Knowles to a handful of people who had experience in costuming. She noted that the close-knit nature of this field in the area and the state made it easier for her to forge connections.

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She credits these mentors with encouraging her to start working on random projects that she said fed her creative spirit, including musicals at her high school and designing costumes for the synchronized skating team Ice Force in Dayton.

“Those little projects … let me grow up to be the ‘big fish in the little pond.’ It made it so when I was ready, I could handle the massive ocean that is Los Angeles,” Knowles said.

She currently works as a freelancer and assistant costume designer in Southern California and is employed at the South Coast Repertory, a Tony-award winning theater in Orange County, with some of her work being featured in their stage production of “The Monster Builder.”

Sensing that freelancing will be in her foreseeable future in the industry, Knowles said she’s unsure where this career path will take her and would love to flourish in the theater scene.

READ MORE: Graham students give back to the community

“I love theater, that is where my roots are and I have both my degrees in theater,” she said.

She has done some television and commercial work in Los Angeles and she said she would also like to take on more of those projects.

Speaking on the contributions that Clark County has had on her career, Knowles said that because she grew up in Springfield she will always have a lot of Ohio in her blood.