New principal at Souders
Matthew Cox will be the new principal at Hylen Souders Elementary School.
“We are excited for what Matt will bring to the Souders students, staff, and community, as well as to the district,” said district superintendent Angie Pollock. “Matt was previously a teacher at Big Walnut for eleven years. He then took on leadership roles, including assistant principal at BWHS and for the last eight years he has been a principal in Mount Vernon City Schools, Southwestern City Schools, and Perkins Local Schools. Matt is excited about the opportunity to return to Big Walnut in a leadership capacity and eager to get started in this new role.”
District Adds New Courses to Meet Student Needs
Jen Young, Director of Academic Achievement
We are always reflecting and looking for ways that we can make our curriculum more personalized and engaging to prepare students for life after high school.
After surveying students and families, we are excited to be expanding our educational offerings for students next year! Our new courses will provide real world experiences for students, expand the options for students interested in performing arts, offer additional free college credit for courses taken at BWHS, combine math/science and English/social studies to make connections between subjects, and give students internship opportunities.
While each of these courses will be new, it’s important to note that this does not mean new teachers were hired for every course. Most of these courses will be taught by current Big Walnut teachers. By looking at student interests, we were able to change some of our offerings to meet the needs of our current student population. In addition, we spent a great deal of time reviewing how our staff is being used and ensuring that we maximize their time in order to best serve our students.
If you would like more information about the new offerings or are interested in getting your child registered for a course, please contact the school counseling office.
Handling Enrollment Increases
What’s Ahead for Next School Year
Our district has already experienced the effects of enrollment increases and is preparing for overcrowding this fall as even more students move to our schools over the summer months.
So, what can parents expect with the new school year? Already the district knows some class sizes will be larger when school resumes in August. This is necessary, while not ideal. Larger class sizes make it more difficult for teachers to get one-on-one time with students, which in turn makes it tough to personalize learning for students.
By taking a big-picture look at the district, decisions will be made on whether to bus some students away from their neighborhood elementary schools to another where there may be more space. At this time, this only impacts kindergarten students, but may impact older students as we continue to grow.
We are refurbishing our existing double-classroom trailer at Big Walnut Elementary for use next school year, and we are adding another double-classroom trailer for General Rosecrans Elementary, with many more on the horizon without a permanent fix.
“Although these fixes are not ideal we are doing all we can to fit students into our schools,” said Superintendent Angie Pollock. “Looking ahead, what concerns me is without a long term solution our enrollment projections show that over the next nine years, we would need approximately 67 trailer spaces to serve as classrooms.”
“It’s really difficult to manage spaces when they are overcrowded. There is no room for students to even eat in the cafeteria, and we are holding study hall in the auditorium. That is not an ideal situation for studying, but it is what we have available,” said Carol Burchett, high school Spanish and French teacher.
“With each passing week we only pick up more students,” Pollock said. “With enrollment growth a factor at all levels, we will be asking students and parents to be extra patient next year as there are some definite inconveniences that come with overcrowding.”
Pollock noted that it may take longer to dismiss at the close of the school day and seating and parking for activities such as concerts and plays will continue to be at a premium.
“It’s far from perfect,” said Pollock, “but we are doing all we can to take care of each student.”
Best Buddies Friendship
Program Heading to BWHS
Erin Curtis, Student Services Coordinator
We’re excited to share that we will have a Best Buddies Friendship program within our high school starting in the 2017-2018 school year.
The Best Buddies Friendship program builds one-to-one friendships between people with and without intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD), offering social mentoring while improving the quality of life and level of inclusion for a population that is often isolated and excluded. Through their participation, people with IDD form meaningful connections with their peers, gain self-confidence and self-esteem, and share interests, experiences and activities that many other individuals enjoy.
Big Walnut High School is looking for students who would be interested in being peer buddies and willing to commit to building a friendship with a student with a disability. Part of the commitment is to agree to a minimum of two social activities outside of the school day with their buddy, as well as communicate with them as they would with any other friend — through social media, texting, phone calls, etc.
The Best Buddies Friendship Program at BWHS will provide students the opportunity to assume leadership roles.
The student leadership members will meet with high school staff advisors to plan upcoming social gatherings and activities that “buddies” can participate in together.
It is strongly encouraged to have parent liaisons to participate in the student leadership and staff advisor meetings. If you are interested in being a part of this great opportunity, please contact Erin Curtis, BW Student Services Coordinator through email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Alumni Hall of Fame
Once again, our BWHS Principal’s Leadership Team recognized our distinguished alumni at a luncheon on March 9 at the high school.
This entire process, from the selection of inductees to the organization of the awards luncheon, is completely student-driven.
Our new alumni inductees – Tommy Hatfield (Class of 1983), Don “Red” Edwards (Class of 1956), and Jim Hildreth (Class of 1977) — were presented their awards by our student leaders and were given an opportunity to share their experiences and wisdom with the group.
Our students did an amazing job of introducing the recipients, and it was great to witness the students interacting with alumni.
As we continue to grow, it becomes even more important that we remain connected with our alumni and maintain the rich traditions that are a part of our school and larger community. Our student committee will be seeking nominations in the spring for the next class of inductees.
A Message From Our Board
Throughout the school year, our students had many notable achievements. Overall, this was a great year for our schools.
Without a doubt, we provide a great value to residents: An excellent education at a low price. We work hard every day to provide this to our community.
One of our highest priorities this year is addressing enrollment growth, overcrowding and school facilities. As our superintendent has frequently noted, our facility and enrollment growth collectively represent the single biggest issue facing our schools right now.
We are continuing to grow at a rapid rate and many of our schools are either at or near capacity. It takes time to construct a new school building – four years for a high school –which is why we are working so diligently and have placed this issue as a top priority. The more overcrowded our facilities get, the more it affects the safety and operations of the buildings. It also impacts the educational quality that we can provide. If teachers do not have space for their resources or enough space to appropriately teach students, then it hurts our ability to reach students in all the ways we know we can. That concerns us and we know it concerns many of you, too.
As we begin looking toward a November ballot issue, we have spent time listening to residents and reflecting upon the November loss. While the need has only worsened since that time, we heard the community and intend to pursue a trimmed back version of last year’s ballot issue. That means that voters will decide on the most critical facility needs now and we will put off on the other necessary facility needs until later.
Thank you to all of those who participated in our survey, or contacted us individually or as a Board to offer your thoughts and input into next steps. When residents are heard and informed, it makes for a stronger and better community and school system.
Best wishes for a safe and relaxing summer.
Listed below are some of the frequently asked questions we have received lately. Have a question? Send us an email at email@example.com.
Does the district have land for a new high school?
No. We do not have the funds to purchase the land. That would come as a result of bond issue passage.
Do you know where the new high school will be located?
No. That depends on many market factors, such as sewer lines, pricing and willing sellers. Once we have the funds, we can begin pursuing the land that makes the most sense. Luckily, we have the Facilities Planning Committee to help us with this work, and with assessing land purchases.
Is there a design for the new high school?
No. That requires architectural fees and those are funds we do not have at this time. Once a ballot issue is approved, then we will be in a better position to develop a plan. Any plan that is developed will be with community and staff involvement and it will reflect the needs of Big Walnut, not of any other district. When we arrive at a budget for the building, we will stay within that budget. Our budget is primarily based on the state recommended amount per square foot for the number of students.
Why did Central Office move?
Ultimately because it frees up space and district funds. It was cheaper for us to move than to build classroom space, which is what Central Office was occupying.
I heard that Hylen Souders Elementary has empty classrooms. How can elementary schools be reaching capacity soon, but there are empty classrooms?
There are no empty classrooms at Souders. All classrooms are in use. If anything, we may need to convert a computer lab to regular classroom use. We are also facing the need to move services such as physical and occupational therapy and tutoring from a classroom to hallways to create classroom space.
Single Most Important Issue Facing Schools?
Enrollment growth and overcrowding creates definite difficulties in running a school building.
The lack of space creates safety and educational challenges on a day-to-day basis. To address the growth with trailers, or any other temporary fixes, it means that we must divert funds from the operating budget to try to solve them. Those are funds that are otherwise dedicated to the classroom and for our day-to-day operations.
“Short-term fixes place strain on our daily operating budget because we must divert funds in order to help remedy the problem immediately,” stated district superintendent Angie Pollock. “We want greater efficiency in our facilities and we want to protect the educational value we provide to residents but that cannot come through short-term fixes.”
Pollock noted that the district’s tax rate is lower than nearly every other school system in our area. Big Walnut spends less per pupil than the state average and less than most districts around us while providing an excellent educational value.
BWMS Students Help the Community for Service Day
Our middle school students and staff were happy to join youth across the world for Global Youth Service Day.
In collaboration with community partners, we held the second annual Big Walnut Service Day on April 21. We are proud that 100% of staff and students at BWMS participated in service learning at over 44 different service sites.
A variety of student-selected activities were available to impact the local community, our region and the world. Throughout the year, a committee of 25 student leaders prepared for this event by surveying the students, meeting with local community partners and establishing goals for service sites within our greater Big Walnut learning community.
The students, staff and community utilized resources from Global Youth Service Day planning templates to identify areas of need, clarify the work to be completed, and identify the resources necessary to complete these tasks. Based on these responses, 560 students, 60 staff members and additional parent and community volunteers were divided into teams and sent out across our county. Altogether, the service hours from this event totaled over 2,170 and deepened the pride in our community.
On the day of the event, service teams began together to build rapport and excitement with targeted activities before an assembly to kick off the event with local musician and community leader, Mr. Dave Martin. Service teams then traveled by school bus to their sites to serve before returning to school to share and reflect upon the lessons learned from the service activities.
Overall, service learning promotes good deeds and academic achievement, but its greater potential lies in preparing students to be engaged citizens. Given the purpose of this event was to serve others, we hope that the biggest impact will be not on ourselves, but those that benefit from our unified service.
Board To Pursue Scaled Down Bond Issue
The Big Walnut Local Schools Board of Education is expected to vote on a proposed bond issue this month that will appear on the November 7, 2017 ballot.
The Board spent time following last fall’s ballot issue failure listening to the community’s input about possible solutions to the district’s enrollment growth problem. This included in-person conversations, a community survey, an online questionnaire and the involvement of the district’s community-based Facility Committee.
The Board is expected to vote to approve a scaled-down version of last fall’s bond issue, including a new high school ($87 Million), a new elementary ($16 Million) and the re-purposing of our current high school as a middle school, our current middle school as an intermediate and the current intermediate as an additional elementary school.
This bond issue is expected to include less funds for the existing buildings, with a focus on improving the security of the entries in the five older buildings.
While this millage will not provide enough funds to address many of the older buildings’ needs, it will provide some funds while keeping overall millage down. The Board is also considering adding mills for ongoing Permanent Improvement needs, such as maintaining roofs and heating components.
Getting additional student space is the district’s top priority for the next ballot issue.
“It takes two years to build an elementary school, and even longer for a high school,” stated Superintendent Angie Pollock, “That’s why it is important that we start addressing this now. The growth is already here and the new houses around the district show that it is only expected to continue in a strong and steady way.”
Land purchase expected to be part of the plan
While the district does have two potential sites from developers that would accommodate an elementary school, it does not currently own land for a new high school. There simply are not extra funds in the existing budget to purchase that land now; any land purchase would need to occur once a bond issue is passed.
“Our Facilities Committee has studied potential options,” stated Pollock. “And we even have a few in mind, but making those public at this point would be premature, and could only serve to potentially drive up the purchase price. That would hurt not only the district, but ultimately our taxpayers.
“There are a lot of decisions that go into determining a good piece of property, including having a willing seller at a fair price,” Pollock continued. “We have a few sites in mind, but a lot can happen between now and when we obtain the funds.”
The Facilities Committee, made up of local experts in construction and other areas, is vital to planning when it comes to determining what is needed and what is most important. It is common for questions to arise when a community has schools with major needs. Anyone having questions should direct those to the Superintendent’s Office.
Information for this story was provided by the May Eagle Examiner newsletter.