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Yellow Springs School Board

Yellow Springs High School/McKinney Middle School as it appeared in late September last year. (Drone photo by Bryan Cady)

School board considers additional facilities options

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Following the first school facilities listening session held by the district in January, architect Mike Ruetschle presented next steps for the district at the school board’s regular meeting Thursday, Feb. 9.

This month, the district has met — and will meet again Friday, Feb. 17 — with members of the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission, or OFCC, in observational visits of the current school facilities. The OFCC may offer some co-funding for new construction or renovation of school facilities, depending on the project the district decides to pursue.

“It’s important that [OFCC] walk through all these buildings and we understand what they’re going to be willing to advocate to fund,” Ruetschle said.

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Ruetschle also presented a preliminary fact sheet briefly detailing eight potential facilities plans for both the school board and community members to consider as the next facilities listening session approaches on Tuesday, Feb. 21. The plans currently in consideration are:

• Option A1 — critical renovations and upgrades at the current middle and high school campuses, previously referred to as the “foundational plus” plan.

• Option A2 — full renovation of both campuses to “like new” conditions.

• Option B1 — a new, single K–12 campus on East Enon Road where the middle and high schools are currently located.

• Option B2 — a combination of new construction and renovation to create a single K–12 campus on East Enon Road with expanded square footage.

• Option C1 — renovation of Mills Lawn for grades K–4, and a new 5–12 campus on East Enon Road, previously referred to as the “hybrid” plan.

• Option C2 — a new K–4 building at the location of Mills Lawn and a new 5–12 building on East Enon Road.

• Option C3 — renovation of Mills Lawn for grades K–4 at Mills Lawn and a combination of renovation, demolition and new construction for grades 5–12 on East Enon Road.

• Option C4 — a new K–4 building at the current location of Mills Lawn and a combination of renovation, demolition and new construction for grades 5–12 on East Enon Road.

According to Ruetschle, the OFCC has said it will consider differing levels of co-funding for the potential plans laid out in Options B1–C4; no co-funding will be offered if the district pursues Options A1 or A2. He also clarified that, because the OFCC will not co-fund building projects that accommodate fewer than 350 students, Options B1–C4 either include a single campus for all grades or involve moving fifth- and sixth-grade students to the middle school to meet the occupancy requirement.

Ruetschle said the district has also spent this month “engaging and refining” the eight options he presented with the OFCC in order to create draft floor plans and determine potential budget ranges and state credits, of which he said he expects to present preliminary versions at the Feb. 21 listening session.

One factor that will affect facilities cost projections will be storm shelters; though, as Ruetschle has reminded the district at past Facilities Committee meetings, a state moratorium on requiring dedicated storm shelters for new or renovated school buildings expired on Nov. 30, he reported that Gov. Mike DeWine has since signed new legislation that invalidates that requirement.

On Jan. 6, DeWine signed House Bill 45 into law; that bill’s language includes many updates to existing Ohio regulations, including prohibiting “the Board of Building Standards from requiring the installation of storm shelters in school buildings … undergoing or about to undergo construction, alteration, repair or maintenance.”

As reported in the past, fully upgraded storm shelters are estimated to cost around $1.7 million at Mills Lawn and around $2 million at the middle and high schools.

“It’s a significant dollar amount, so I wanted to make sure the board is aware of [the new legislation], because it’s 180 degrees away from what I’ve been advising [the board] and Facilities Committee over the last few months,” Ruetschle said.

He added that the state still has minimum standards in place for offering space for shelter during a significant weather event in schools, and that the district can still move ahead with including storm shelters that meet some or all of the requirements put in place by the expiration of the moratorium before the new legislation was signed.

“There are options to move forward,” Ruetschle said. “There could be a hybrid version of the storm shelter.”

Looking ahead, Ruetschle said the district and wider community can expect to view final potential plans, budgets and state credits at its third listening session on March 16. He advised the board to narrow down the number of options it is considering by the fourth and final listening session, to be held April 5.

“This all leads to the board meeting on May 11; my recommendation is that the board would approve a final master plan [at that meeting],” Ruetschle said.

The next facilities listening session will be held Tuesday, Feb. 21, 6–8 p.m., at Yellow Springs High School; see page 4 of this week’s issue for a letter from the Board of Education detailing the discussion format for the next two listening sessions.

Eight-period day, more courses approved

The board approved a transition from a seven-period day to an eight-period day for middle and high school students beginning in the 2023–24 school year. The change will shorten class periods from 53 minutes to 45 minutes and allow for expanded course opportunities for students in both the middle and high schools, as well as decrease the size of some classes.

The change in the number of periods comes with new courses to be offered at the middle and high schools, which were enthusiastically approved by the board. The list of new courses includes: drumline, art history, oil painting, playwriting, film and film production, yearbook, hands-on geometry, improvisation and devised theater, critical thinking and modeling in STEM, African American literature, Spanish for heritage speakers, humanities, lifetime fitness, American Sign Language, human geography, Spanish I for high school credit to be offered to eighth-grade students, contemporary issues, creative writing and digital content creation.

“I’m excited to see this kind of creativity and critical thinking and expansion on relevant topics for our young people [that] will ignite our students’ interest in learning,” board member Luisa Bieri Rios said of the upcoming course offerings.

A course scheduling night for current eighth- through 11th-grade students and parents is slated to be held Thursday, March 2, 5–8 p.m., at Yellow Springs High School.

Also approved was a phased increase in the number of credits required for graduation due to the change in class periods. The credit requirements for the classes of 2023 and 2024 will remain the same at 21 credits, increasing to 22 credits for the class of 2025 and 23 credits for every class from 2026 on.

Bias and discrimination report

McKinney Middle School and Yellow Springs High School Principal Jack Hatert presented the first-semester bias and discrimination report for the schools. The report was based on information gathered by Student Advocate Maya Luney-Ballew, who was hired last year to provide guidance to students and “address issues of discrimination, bias, equity and opportunity,” according to a job description written by the district.

According to Hatert, Luney-Ballew has worked to maintain a bias and discrimination incident report system, as well as holding book study groups focused on diversity and equity and developing individualized plans for students who come to her for help.

Mills Lawn Principal Megan Winston added that Luney-Ballew has also recently instituted a “Real Talk with Miss Maya” series for Mills Lawn sixth-graders to educate them on the bias and discrimination reporting system, and hopes to expand the series to include fifth-graders in the future.

Hatert said that 27 reports of bias and/or discrimination have been filed this semester. According to Hatert, 29.4% of incidents were reported by YSHS students, 35.3% by McKinney students and 35.3% by staff. Reports filed detailed issues involving race/ethnicity/color, cognitive ability, national origin, mental health and gender identity. In 76% of reported incidents, the person harmed was a student; in 8%, a staff member was harmed; in 16% of reports, the incident was not harmful to an individual, but to the school community as a whole.

Hatert clarified that, of the 27 reports filed, after investigation, seven of those were found to have involved a misunderstanding or miscommunication.

“What we’re learning from having [Luney-Ballew] here is … we’re dealing with children, and as long as that is the case … there’s going to be work to do,” Hatert said. “This is giving us the opportunity to call people in and help them grow in a way that we don’t have repeat offenses.”

Handbook update

The board approved an update to the school handbook that prohibits more than one student in a single bathroom stall simultaneously.

“What it centers around, quite honestly, is vaping and dabbing,” Superintendent Terri Holden said, referring to student use of devices that deliver nicotine or cannabinoids via heated liquid or oil.

Holden added that the district aims to hold a discussion event with parents to make them aware of the issue and educate them on the negative health effects and legal risks of underage nicotine and cannabis use.

“It has caused such a problem in our bathrooms and we hope that this is a way to address it,” she said.

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