Vandalia-Butler to close elementary school

Published: Tuesday, September 25, 2012 @ 6:54 PM
Updated: Tuesday, September 25, 2012 @ 6:54 PM

Vandalia-Butler City School District officials announced Tuesday they will close Murlin Heights Elementary School regardless of whether voters approve an additional 6.99-mill levy on the Nov. 6 ballot.

The earliest the 60-year-old school on North Dixie Drive would close would be next school year. It is part of the second phase of the district’s two-year, $7 million cost reduction plan, spokeswoman Bethany Reiff said.

This latest phase cutting $3.5 million follows early cuts totalling that amount announced in April.

Officials called the planned closure a “financial necessity” due to the high cost of operating the school for grades K-4 as well as additional planned cuts to teachers, support staff and administrators.

A second school that has not been identified also “could be closed” if the levy fails, Reiff said.

Superintendent Christy Donnelly could not be reached for comment.

Meegan Brady, who has three children in the district, including a 9-year-old son at Murlin Heights, was saddened to learn the news.

“To take it away completely, it shocked people,” said Brady, who volunteers at the school. She worries about the jobs of the staff and how the 406 students will be impacted. “Where are all those kids going to go?” she asked.

The district, which has about 3,300 students, plans to reconfigure district grade levels as part of the reductions aimed at balancing the budget. It provided a bullet-point list of what would happen depending on election results.

If the levy passes: $3.5 million would be cut and up to 15 positions of teachers, support staff and administrators eliminated. Busing that already has been reduced to the state minimum would be reassessed for 2013-14. There would be additional cuts to extracurricular activities.

If the levy fails: An additional $3.9 million would be cut and up to 60 positions eliminated. Student programs would be eliminated, compensation and benefits reduced and there would be $800,000 more cut from co-curriculars and athletics.

This is the third straight attempt by the district to get voters to approve a 6.99-mill operating and permanent improvement levy, which would generate about $3.9 million annually. Two earlier levies were defeated in November 2011 and last month.

District officials first warned voters last November that failure would result in $7 million in cuts. The first wave, identified in April, involved eliminating 32 positions, including 13 teaching positions. The district laid off 22 people.

Administrators said at that time the cost reductions were necessitated by a budget deficit of $18.3 million that resulted from $10.5 million in state funding cuts and a $7.8 million loss in property taxes.

This latest phase of reductions calls for reconfiguring district grade levels, likely next school year, in an effort to manage large class sizes.

Reiff said the reconfiguring “will definitely occur whether or not the levy passes” but said officials will not make a decision on what it would look like until there is more certainty about the budget.

Today, the district has 33 fewer teachers, 6.5 fewer administrators and 19 fewer support staff than it did in 2009, officials said. Remaining employees have taken a pay freeze and pay more for insurance.

Murlin Heights Principal Connie Strehle said it was sad receiving the news that the school she has led for a decade will be closing its doors for good after this school year.

“We were sad but we also realize we have a job to do this year,” she said. “We are going to provide our students with the best education we can.”

School’s out, but not for some Butler County teachers

Published: Friday, June 23, 2017 @ 4:00 PM


            K-12 teachers from Butler County and other area school systems are attending summer courses in writing and mathematics at Miami University’s Voice of America Learning Center in West Chester Township. The program is designed to further develop teachers’ skills in classroom instruction. MICHAEL D. CLARK/STAFF

It’s an old joke among the teaching profession but the hundreds of area instructors spending their summer break learning new classroom techniques at Miami University’s West Chester Twp. campus still don’t think it’s funny.

“What are the three best things about teaching?” goes the joke.

Answer: “June, July and August.”

But it doesn’t apply to them, said Butler County teachers attending math and writing summer courses and workshops at Miami’s Voice of America Learning Center.

MORE: Miami University Hamilton lands top grant for city schools’ project

The school calendar year is often hectic, and time for professional development is scarce, said teachers. Summer break allows them to concentrate on professional development and completing state-mandated teacher certification classes to improve their classroom instruction and make them eligible for promotions.

“These two programs are designed for (K-12) teachers and focus on subject matter content,” said Rod Nimtz, director of the Learning Center.

“This program has inspired me to learn how to teach writing and it has been a phenomenal program for me,” said Heather Packo, a Fairfield High School special education teacher.

The seven-week summer writing program, one of the more popular professional development courses offered at the learning center since it opened in 2009, also allows teachers to meet their colleagues from other area school systems and exchange ideas, said Packo.

“It’s really interesting to see how much of a small world it really is. I’ve met teachers from other school districts,” she said.

The 20-acre learning center off of Cox Road is part of Butler County Metro Parks’ Voice of America Park and Miami built the single, 23,000-square-foot building campus to bring some of its programs closer to the heavily populated and still growing West Chester Township communities.

RELATED: VOA Park breaks ground for field house

Besides the learning center, Miami University also has a variety of summer learning programs at its two regional campuses in Middletown and Hamilton as well as its main campus in Oxford.

MORE: Miami’s main campus hosts summer youth camp

The summer math courses, which have been offered since 2009, are also popular among local teachers.

“This location is fantastic,” said Packo. “It’s smack in the middle of everyone lives and works.”

Jama Singh, a 3rd-grade teacher from Lakota Schools’ Cherokee Elementary, appreciates the learning center summer offerings because “it’s right here in the area.”

“You hear great speakers who are very inspiring and get you excited about getting back into your own classroom. And you definitely get ideas from other teachers because teachers are the best encouragers to one another,” said Singh.

The misconception about teachers and summer, said Singh, is “that teachers sit around and don’t do much of anything but we do spend a lot of time learning and learning in groups.”

“The best teachers are the best learners and these opportunities in the summer give you a fresh perspective on a lot of different ideas on teaching,” she said.

CJ grad’s mental health project helps earn Dayton Daily scholarship

Published: Saturday, June 24, 2017 @ 2:00 AM


            Brianna Gavin is the most recent recipient of the Dayton Daily News Community Solutions Scholarship. She is a 2017 graduate of Chaminade Julienne High School and plans to attend the University of Dayton next fall. GRANT PEPPER/STAFF
            GRANT PEPPER

A 2017 graduate of Chaminade Julienne High School who helped raise awareness of mental illness and depression among teens is the recipient of the Dayton Daily News Community Solutions Scholarship.

Brianna Gavin received the $1,000 award after being chosen from 147 applicants.

The scholarship is “focused on volunteerism and making valuable contributions to the community,” said Ron Rollins, editor of the Ideas & Voices pages for the Dayton Daily News.

“The students who applied didn’t just have to be good students and have good grades, though all of them did – they also had to explain in their applications how they give back to the community,” he said.

RELATED: Dayton Foundation assets exceed $505 million

Gavin wrote that beginning in 2014, during her sophomore year of high school, her family endured several major events involving her parents and siblings that caused her family stability to suffer significantly.

Gavin suffered from depression as a result.

“I went through tough times that I would never wish upon anyone. I hit an all-time low,” Gavin said. “But because I went through this tough time, I found the power and the inspiration to complete such a project like I have with my capstone.”

During Gavin’s senior year at CJ, she and four peers worked on a capstone project to help raise awareness of mental illness and depression among teens. They implemented an awareness week in January, with each day having a different theme: Stress Awareness Day, Day of Gratitude, Compliment Day, Loosen Up/Lighten Up Day, and Acceptance Day.

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“The impact of the project was insurmountable,” Gavin said in an application essay. “With the stress awareness activities, the students were completing the small activities on the bookmarks handed out and just seemed happier. All of these days spread a clear awareness about the impact of mental illness on teens and how we could help each other overcome it.”

Gavin plans to attend the University of Dayton this fall, majoring in English and secondary education.

The Dayton Daily News Community Solutions Scholarship was established in 2005 to honor Mike Peters, a political and comic strip cartoonist. He began his career working at the Dayton Daily News in 1969. In 1981, he was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for political cartooning.

To be eligible for the scholarship, applicants must:

  • Be a graduating senior from a high school within Montgomery, Greene, Miami and Warren counties,
  • Demonstrate the ability to succeed academically,
  • Be accepted to attend a two or four-year accredited college or university, and
  • Submit an essay that demonstrates how they have worked to solve a community problem/need, and be able to explain the impact and/or future plans for solving the problem.

Students can visit daytonfoundation.org to apply.

Hamilton Schools holds English language ‘summer camps’

Published: Wednesday, June 21, 2017 @ 6:00 PM
Updated: Wednesday, June 21, 2017 @ 8:41 PM


            Teachers Cassie Davis and Katherine Droney work students on writing projects as part of Exploring Words Summer Camp, held at Riverview Elementary in Hamilton. GREG LYNCH / STAFF

For 11-year-old Zitlalik Avalos, summer break in Hamilton is about working to improve her English skills.

She and dozens of other English Language Learner (ELL) students are attending Hamilton City Schools’ first “Exploring Words Summer Camp” at two of the city schools in neighborhoods with large Hispanic and other foreign-born populations.

“English is important to learn,” Avalos said clearly and precisely.

MORE: Miami Hamilton lands grant to work with city schools

The federally and locally funded camps, which are held each weekday at Riverview Elementary and the Booker T. Washington Community Center, are a joint effort of the Butler County school system and the local YMCA.

The goal: Better English speaking students make for better performing students.

According to recent U.S. Census estimates, the Hispanic and Latino population of the 62,000-resident city has nearly doubled since comprising 2.6 percent in 2000 to 5.7 percent in 2015.

But the city school district’s enrollment of about 9,000 students for the 2016-2017 school year is higher and includes 13.6 percent Hispanic and Latino students, according to the latest Ohio Department of Education report card.

MORE: Hamilton Schools adding security guards for 2017-2018

“These programs are essential for our English Language Learners as they learn essential language skills to help them better prepare for the demands of our college and career readiness curriculum,” said Hamilton Schools Superintendent Tony Orr.

Corbin Moore, assistant director for assessment, gifted and English as a Second Language (ESL) students, said the daily “camps,” which provide breakfast and lunch to participating students, mix learning with fun.

“During morning camp session, students are exploring academic English language words through several interactive activities and lessons. Students read, research, discuss, write, create, act (drama), and present about a variety of civics-based and STEM related topics,” said Moore.

MORE: Why city staffer says Hamilton needs more college grads

Students “use Chromebooks, tablets, and other more traditional tools to read, research, write about several topics under civic and STEM education themes. Listening, speaking, reading, and writing skills are practiced daily by the campers to improve their conversational and academic English language skills. Campers progress will be measured through a pre and post academic vocabulary assessments … and by evaluating writing samples by word count, grammar, and overall quality,” he said.

RELATED: Longtime Riverview principal retires

Avalos appreciates the language camp, especially having teachers on hand to guide her.

“The teachers help you out with your English. Whenever you mess up in the English they don’t care too much because they know you are trying to learn,” she said.

Sports camps keep Middletown students engaged this summer

Published: Wednesday, June 21, 2017 @ 3:42 PM


            Middletown City Schools is offering sports camps and training sessions in variety of girls and boys sports, including football, softball, basketball, volleyball, bowling, soccer and cheerleading. CONTRIBUTED

Summer time is sports time in Middletown thanks to a line-up of activities for students in the city schools.

Middletown City Schools is offering sports camps and training sessions in variety of girls and boys sports, including football, softball, basketball, volleyball, bowling, soccer and cheerleading.

MORE: 5 Middletown athletes everyone should know

The Middie youth sports camps are popular, said Destini Burns, spokeswoman for the Butler County school system.

“It’s inspiring to see so many of our students still hard at work during their summer break,” said Burns.

MORE: Middletown High School Varsity Club re-forming after 10-year hiatus

“They are learning and being engaged in positive environments that will contribute to their overall success. They are interacting with not only our coaches but our Middletown High School students, who are in turn receiving the opportunity to build relationships and serve as role models for their younger counterparts,” she said.

RELATED: Meet Middletown’s new school leader

Big changes are coming to Middletown Schools when the 2017-2018 school year starts in August.

The district has a new superintendent — Marlon Styles Jr. — and will be opening parts of newly renovated Middletown High School. In the summer of 2018 the new Middletown Middle School will open on the high school campus.

For more information on summer sports camps, click here