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McKinney 7th graders launch year in canoes

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As the start of the school year draws closer, teachers and staff at the district’s schools already have plans in place for a number of immersive educational projects that reflect the district’s philosophy of project-based learning, or PBL. McKinney teachers Kate Lohmeyer (PE) and Rebecca Eastman (language arts) and administrator and PBL coach Jack Hatert presented their “Into the Wild” project at last week’s school board meeting on Thursday, Aug. 11. “Into the Wild” is a 50-mile, three-day biking and camping trip that the seventh graders will be taking at the end of September.

Students, teachers and chaperones will leave on Sept. 21 and bike 35 miles to Morgan’s Riverside Campground in Morrow, Ohio. Along the way, they will meet historians and other educators who will teach them about the towns, settlers and cultures of the area. The group will camp that evening and then do a six-mile canoe trip the next day, and will camp again that night. The last leg of the journey will be a 15-mile bike trip to Loveland, where parents can meet the group for lunch and to commune with teachers.

In their presentation, the teachers listed the cross-disciplinary pre-learning that the students will be doing prior to disembarkation: macroinvertebrates, watershed analysis and the Underground Railroad. Math will be integrated in planning meals and apportioning supplies, while students will learn about government by conducting their camps according to various governmental systems, and will be collecting data for the duration of the trip. There will be a significant fitness component leading up to the trip as well, as students will be doing training rides for five weeks before they leave. All in all, Hatert said, the students will be actively involved in planning the trip.

Some bikes have been donated for students without a bike capable of making the trip. The trip has also received a Martha Holden Jennings grant of $2,400.

In other school board business:

• Two architects from the Dayton firm Ruetschle and Ruetschle gave a presentation outlining the firm’s plans for renovating or building new district schools. A facilities update is part of the district’s Strategic 2020 Plan, according to Superintendent Mario Basora, and needs to be done in order to make the infrastructure meet the needs of our school and our mission.

“The costs of maintaining our aging and outdated facilities is growing each year and compels the district to do a full evaluation of our buildings and our options for improvement,” Basora wrote in a handout given out at the meeting.

Ruetschle and Ruetschle is one of “three to four” firms being considered by the district, he said. Members of Ruetschle and Ruetschle recently toured Yellow Springs schools and presented their assessment of the updates the facilities may need and what the process will look like from the community’s perspective. Architect Mike Ruetschle said that his firm specializes in K–12 schools and has designed space for a total of 26,000 students.

Ruetschle said that in his estimation, the district’s schools all need significant renovations. However, this means it is a great opportunity for the district to rethink grade configurations or to plan for buildings that share facilities among grades and with the community. Ruetschle and the board members discussed possible district-community resources: a fixed-seat performance art space, a community garden and kitchen, and a wellness component (such as an indoor track), among others.

Committees made up of staff and community members would oversee the scope of the project. Ruetschle envisioned a “facility advisory committee” and a series of community forums throughout the duration of the project that contribute the community’s input to the project.

“We want the community involved from the very beginning of our discussions,” he said.

According to the firm’s timeline, villagers would vote on the project in fall 2017. If the community is interested in some kind of renovation or new building, planning would take place through 2018, design through 2019, and teachers would move into the new facilities by 2020.

Some of the project would be funded by the Ohio School Facilities Commission, said Basora. He estimated that around 10 to 15 percent of the funds would be paid for by the state, though their funds would not cover “non-academic” aspects like an auditorium.

Basora stressed that no decisions have been made yet; the presentation and discussion are simply to get a better understanding of the options. Nothing will happen until there have been numerous public forums to give the district the feedback it needs, he said. Ultimately, the scope of the project, whether undertaking renovations, building new buildings or doing nothing at all, will be determined by voters as a ballot issue in fall of 2017.

Another firm will present at next month’s board meeting, with a selection to be made by October. Ruetschle and Ruetschle’s visit to the school and the subsequent research was done “purely on their own time,” said Basora. The district did not pay the firm for their presentation.

• Recent negotiations with the teachers’ union led to some additions to the district’s budget: co-ed bowling is now a winter sport, and the softball team now has a paid assistant coach. Funds have also been made available for a variety of First Lego League teams, a national debate team, and SPIDEE, which is a student-created and student-led pro-inclusion program. Fifth- and sixth-grade girls will also have the chance to participate in Girls on the Run, a confidence-building running club.

• The district has added a “parental leave clause” into its employees’ contracts. A birthing mother now gets six weeks of paid vacation while a non-birthing parent gets four weeks. Basora noted that the board was “steadfast and unified” in support of this policy.

“The district not only wants to be supporting students but also building families,” said board member Anne Erickson.

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