The Delaware Area County Chamber of Commerce held its annual “State of the Schools” event Thursday morning in which members heard an update from the four local school districts and the Delaware Area Career Center about education in the county.
The panel of guest speakers consisted of Heidi Kegley, superintendent of Delaware City Schools; Andy Miller, superintendent of Buckeye Valley Local Schools; Angie Hamberg, superintendent of Big Walnut Local Schools; Jay Poroda, superintendent of the Delaware Area Career Center; and Krista Davis, director of communications for Olentangy Local Schools. The discussion was moderated by Alicia Mowry, the public information officer at the DACC.
The school leaders discussed their priorities for the 2021-2022 school year.
“I hate to bring up COVID as the first thing, but our main priority is to keep kids in school in order to give them access to the essential hands-on skills they need to earn their credentials and to get a high quality career technical education,” Poroda said. The career center, he added, is also focused on building partnerships with local businesses to give students the chance to explore career possibilities.
Similarly, Davis said Olentangy’s mission is to keep students learning during the pandemic.
“(Our goal is to) facilitate maximum learning for every student,” she said. “Continuing to navigate education in this pandemic world, the very best we can, and keep kids in school while monitoring student well-being is a three-pronged priority for us this year.”
Kegley said Delaware’s priority is welcoming students and staff back to a five-day learning model.
“We also need to meet our students where they are academically, (and continue) to grow them,” Kegley said. “Each of them comes back to us at a different point, but it’s our job as educators to continue to grow and help them achieve at the highest level possible.”
Miller said Buckeye Valley will likewise be working to close the gap on students returning to school this year.
Hamberg said mental health is a “huge focus area” for Big Walnut.
“Mental health was a crisis need before the pandemic, and it’s just been magnified quite a bit,” she said. “We were really understaffed in that area. … We have been able to hire a few more folks in that area and getting them acclimated and working with our kids has been really important.”
The district leaders also discussed growth in the county and its impact on student populations.
Kegley said the recently completed projects at Dempsey Middle School and Schultz Elementary were the first building projects that will allow the district more room to grow in the future.
Davis said Olentangy continues to grow and now has a student population of 22,500. She added the district estimates that within two years, it will be the fourth biggest district in the state behind Cincinnati, Columbus and Cleveland.
Olentangy recently opened its 16th elementary school and is building a sixth middle school. Davis said the district has several building projects lined up in the future to accommodate the expected population growth.
Hamberg said Big Walnut has grown 35% in the last 10 years, and the district is projected to continue on that path. She added students will do a mid-year move to the new high school later this year, and the district will shuffle students around when the new intermediate school opens in 2023.
Miller said Buckeye Valley is down about 150 students from where the district was 10 years ago. Miller said BV has the facilities to handle their population but is looking into plans for the growth from the Ostrander area.
The discussion was sponsored by the Delaware County Foundation.