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Year in Review

Last April, district librarian and media/technology specialist Eli Hurwitz introduced first graders to the library. (News archive photo by Megan Bachman)

2021 in Review | Village Schools

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Navigating the pandemic

The Yellow Springs public school district began 2021 with students set to continue learning remotely, through online instruction, in response to the ongoing pandemic and determined by a rubric approved by the school board in December 2020.

The rubric, based on COVID-19 prevalence levels, was to be implemented with the conclusion of a longer than normal winter break in order to decide from week to week whether the district’s instructional approach would stay online, follow a part-time “hybrid” model or initiate a 100% in-person return.

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On Jan. 7, while local schools were still on break, Gov. Mike DeWine announced that vaccinations for Ohio’s teachers and other school staff would be contingent on whether districts agreed to bring students back into the schools, either part or full time, effective March 1, if they hadn’t already done so.

In a video sent to school families on Jan. 8, Yellow Springs Superintendent Terri Holden said the district would agree to the governor’s reopening mandate in order to secure vaccinations for the staff. In the meantime, however, the district would use the previously approved rubric through the end of February, and then consider area COVID numbers to decide whether the local return would be part time or fully in-person.

By March 1, 93% of local staff reportedly had received the first of their two vaccination shots, and the schools reopened under a hybrid model, with students splitting their time between in-person and online instruction. The approach proved to be more difficult than anticipated for staff and students, and with most staff fully vaccinated by the end of March, the district adopted a fully in-person model effective April 5, initiating a variety of mitigation measures, including requiring masks for all students and staff and erecting outdoor tents in order to move more activities outside.

When the new school year began in August, the tents were gone, but masks were still required of everyone, along with other mitigation procedures. Mask wearing appears to have been an effective tool in reducing the spread of the virus, as the number of students who have tested positive or been quarantined this fall remained low, especially compared to districts without mask requirements. At the most recent school board meeting Dec. 20, Holden reported that of the handful of local students who tested positive since the start of the school year, all but one were related to exposures outside of the school setting.

In other school news through the year:

• In January, the Yellow Springs Speech & Debate team hosted 40 schools from across Ohio for its third annual Yellow Springs Fearless Forensic Festival, conducted online Saturday, Jan. 30.

• In February, Mills Lawn Elementary School commemorated Black History Month, adopting the theme “Here and Now: The Power of Words,” which highlighted the Black Lives Matter movement and the recent surge in youth-led activism after the violent deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other Black Americans. Then-senior Galen Sieck qualified for the June national competition in Speech & Debate.

• In March, the school board returned to in-person meetings, which have been conducted since then in the Mills Lawn gym. The superintendent outlined a new strategic plan that included a focus on academic rigor and on issues of equity. The board also unanimously approved the sale of a strip of land along the southern edge of the middle/high school campus for the construction of a bike path connecting East Enon Road and the Agraria farm property. The Village agreed to purchase the parcel for $60,000, plus attorney and survey fees, with the understanding that Agraria will make payments on the selling price over the next 15 years.

• Yellow Springs High School began the month of April by hosting a skating party for the class of 2021 in the high school gym, providing pizza, drinks and roller skates. Also in April, Mills Lawn Principal Michelle Person announced her intention to resign at the end of the school year, after a single year with the district.

• In May, the annual third-grade bike hike was renamed the Dan Carrigan Memorial Bike Hike to honor the local bike enthusiast and Mills Lawn supporter, who died suddenly in January. The board approved hiring Megan Winston, an assistant principal at Xenia High School, as the new Mills Lawn principal, effective Aug. 1. The high school prom was held outdoors, hosted by the Wirrig family at their pavilion. The district treasurer reported that revenues had been higher and expenses lower than anticipated, enough that a projected deficit for 2024 would be delayed by a year.

• The high school commencement ceremony May 27 recognized 59 graduating seniors in an outdoor ceremony on the school lawn, preceded by a car parade through town. Kayla Ross and Natalie Galarza represented the class of 2021 as speakers, and school board member Steve McQueen gave the commencement address.

• Longtime teachers Vickie Hitchcock, Peg Morgan, Desirée Nickel and Jody Pettiford retired at the end of the school year, joining Linda Kalter, who had retired at the beginning of the calendar year.

• Summer school began in June, with an extended selection of art and outdoor course offerings in addition to traditional remedial classes.

• In July, the district approved the hiring of Joy Feola as the new assistant principal at the middle/high school, after the resignation of Cameron McCoy. The district also honored Stacey and Steve Wirrig with the presentation of the Bulldog Backer Award for their ongoing support of the schools.

• The school board approved a resolution in July decrying efforts in the Ohio Legislature to limit equity education in public schools.

• A new school year began Aug. 23 with students returning to their classrooms, the first in-person start in two years.

• In September, District Treasurer Tammy Emrick announced her retirement effective Dec. 31; and the board approved a new five-year contract for Superintendent Holden.

• October saw the impending election dominate the news, with the facilities levy on the ballot and five candidates — Dorothée Bouquet, Luisa Bieri Rios, Judith Hempfling, Amy Magnus and Pam Nicodemus — running for three seats on the school board. Bouquet, Bieri Rios and Nicodemus supported the levy. Hempfling and Magnus ran on a platform that included a call for school renovation over new construction.

• The annual district report cards released by the state in October showed a drop in many test scores, especially among third and fourth graders and suggested that the ongoing pandemic has had a profound effect on academic progress.

• In November, Judith Hempfling, Amy Magnus and Dorothée Bouquet were elected to the school board. Board member Sylvia Ellison later announced her resignation, after taking a position with the Greene County health department. She was in the middle of her third term on the board.

• At a special school meeting Tuesday, Nov. 22, the school board approved Jacob “Jay” McGrath to replace district Treasurer Emrick, and also named Luisa Bieri Rios to fill the board seat vacated by Ellison’s resignation.

• The board took actions at the end of the year to expand the pool of substitute teachers, in November increasing a sub’s pay to $120 a day and in December temporarily eliminating the requirement of having a bachelor’s degree.

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