2017 Year in Review: village schools
- Published: January 4, 2018
Yellow Springs schools provided a leading source of local news in 2017, particularly concerning the district’s aging school buildings and community-wide discussions on what to do about them. But the facilities question wasn’t the only matter making headlines during the past 12 months, as local schools faced some challenging issues while celebrating a variety of achievements.
Voters overwhelmingly approved a 7.0-mill, eight-year emergency levy renewal in May, with more than 81 percent of voters supporting the measure. The levy, first approved by voters in 2012, produces $915,000 yearly for the schools, 11 percent of total district funding, and costs homeowners $215 per year for each $100,000 of appraised home value.
A high school student’s essay, read during the village’s annual MLK Day celebration in January, brought to the community’s attention a painful racial incident that had occurred at the school earlier in the school year. The essay opened a door to followup conversations at the school and in town about other incidents affecting students of color.
In response, the school reactivated the United Student Society, a former student club focused on promoting diversity. Also, the community-based Young People of Color group, which is affiliated with the local 365 Project, met with school leaders about their experiences and spoke through the winter with several faith organizations in town.
In April, the Young People of Color drafted a letter to district administration calling for several actions on the part of the schools, including more diversity training for staff and students as well as more diversity in the hiring of teachers and staff.
The start of the new school year in August saw the hiring of several people of color as part of the instructional staff, and school staff also engaged in at least one day of diversity training this fall.
• The girls swim team won the MBC championship in February for the second year in a row.
• Senior Julian Roberts and junior James Browning competed at the state track and field championship June 2–3 at The Ohio State University. Roberts finished fourth in the 300 hurdles, and Browning finished 13th in the high jump.
• This fall, senior Payden Kegley achieved the milestone of 1,000 digs in her position on the varsity volleyball team.
Awards and recognitions
• Students in Jody Chick’s high school intervention class took home a first-place trophy May 3 in the Greene County Career Summit at Beavercreek High School.
• The McKinney Middle School learned in May that its teachers had been named Team of the Year, the highest award given annually by the Ohio Middle Level Association.
• Also last spring, Yellow Springs High School was again named by US News and World Report as one of the “Best High Schools” in Ohio.
• In June, the school board honored villagers Sam Bachtell and Wally Sikes for their decades of individual volunteer service to the school district and presented them with the second-annual Bulldog Backers Award.
In March, the school board approved a five-year contract renewal, effective Aug. 1, 2018–July 31, 2023, for district Superintendent Mario Basora.
The Yellow Springs Alumni Association was officially launched in 2017, holding its first all-class event on July 1. The day’s festivities included honoring the undefeated football teams of 1971 and 1973.
• At least 60 students participated last spring in the high school’s spring musical production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Oklahoma!” — with 45 actors and dancers taking the stage and about 15 in the tech crew.
• The McKinney and YSHS theater departments presented the first Bulldog Theater Festival on two consecutive weekends this fall, with “The Last Lifeboat,” performed by eighth-grade and high school students at Mills Lawn, and “Eurydice,” performed by juniors and seniors at Glen Helen’s Vernet Ecological Center.
Class of 2017
Sixty-five seniors received their diplomas at commencement exercises May 25. Hannah Morrison earned valedictorian recognition, and Callie Smith earned salutatorian.
• A change in the state’s requirements for gifted education was accompanied locally at the start of the new school year by the end of the longstanding Interest Learning Education program at Mills Lawn. The program, which had evolved in the mid-’90s from former gifted instruction at the school, was replaced by a Project-based Learning, or PBL, foundations class for younger students.
• This fall, the board approved a policy to end class rankings, eliminating the annual designation of a valedictorian and salutatorian. The rankings will be replaced with the Latin honors of cum laude, magna cum laude and summa cum laude.
Four candidates — incumbents Steven Conn and Aïda Merhemic and challengers Dawn Johnson and Steve McQueen — ran for three open seats on the school board in November. Voters chose Conn, Merhemic and McQueen. Leading issues concerned the facilities question and the working relationship between the board and district administrators, particularly the superintendent.
With the start of the new school year, Nathan Summers, a parent and former board president, was named the new school manager at the independent Antioch School. Summers filled the vacancy left after former Manager MJ Richlen retired last spring.
Facilities, facilities, facilities
The school board started 2017 intent on addressing the issue of the district’s aging school facilities — the only piece of the 2020 strategic plan that had yet to be taken up.
The question the district hoped to have answered by the end of the calendar year was whether to seek new building construction, pursue renovations or maintain current structures.
Ruetschle Architects, of Dayton, was selected during the February board meeting and contracted, at a cost of $28,000, to develop the district’s plan, in consultation with the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission, or OFCC.
The district subsequently scheduled a series of community forums. About 65 villagers attended the district’s first such forum in March, during which Superintendent Basora laid out some of the needs of the district’s buildings, and Mike Reutschle, of Reutschle Architects, presented a variety of construction and renovation options for addressing those needs, with potential stated costs ranging from $16 million to $30 million.
The following month, the board unanimously approved a resolution that would allow the district to enter into negotiations regarding the purchase of land for building future school buildings.
A second community forum held the first week in May drew about 50 people. Much of that forum’s focus was on building a new facility for K–12 at the current Mills Lawn site, raising concerns among some in attendance about an increase in traffic and parking at the center of town.
Concerns about costs also arose with stated estimates ranging from $26.5 million for overhauling the current buildings to $32 million for new construction. Attenders were told that such costs would require passage of a new 11- to 13.2-mill levy.
Push back from the community not only about costs, but also concerns that the district was moving too quickly toward a conclusion, led the district to schedule three “community pulse” meetings through the summer.
The first meeting, in June, featured information about the recently completed OFCC assessment of the district’s buildings, and the second featured a panel of teachers, most of whom favored new construction. At both meetings, some villagers expressed concerns regarding the proposed costs and the effects on affordability. There were also concerns about the options combining all the grades in one facility, particularly the effect of a K–12 campus on the curent Mills Lawn site.
With the discussions heating up, and the school board members insisting that no decisions had been reached, about 150 people attended the third “pulse” meeting in August. The growing community consensus appeared to favor keeping the schools where they are and adopting a “hybrid” approach that would combine renovation and new construction in phases of completion.
In a subsequent board work session Sept. 13, Reutschle presented a new plan option that incorporated the outcomes of the pulse meetings. Board members also agreed to initiate a community survey to hear residents’ views on building and funding options.
Based on community feedback and the survey results, Reutschle and Basora in November presented the board with an $18.5 million renovation/addition plan for McKinney Middle/Yellow Springs High School. A slightly modified second option, which would include construction of a community performance space, would cost $20.8 million.
The board unanimously approved the $18.5 plan in December and voted to put a combined 0.25 percent income tax and an approximately 4.85-mill bond levy on the May 8 ballot.