Classroom trailers and Chromebooks are two tools the Big Walnut School District will rely on for the 2017-18 school year.
The 109-square-mile district, entirely within Delaware County, but containing two villages and parts of six townships, has an enrollment of about 3,660 students and continues to grow at a rate of more than 100 students each summer. To meet the overcrowding in the buildings, a bond issue will be on the November 7 ballot, which, if passed, would increase the district from seven buildings to nine.
For the time being, classroom trailers are being used at the most overcrowded schools, such as one that will go in at one of General Rosecrans Elementary’s basketball courts.
“It was a hard decision to make, but by putting it there, we wouldn’t have to pour a footer which will save us quite a bit of money, and it’s a better line of sight and more secure,” said District Superintendent Angie Pollock. “That will give us two classrooms.”
In addition, the trailer at Big Walnut Elementary is being renovated, and will have two preschool units.
“The big challenge for us on the fiscal side, is it’s just not energy-efficient,” Pollock said of the trailers. “Maintaining a comfortable environment for learning is difficult. Sometimes they get too hot or too cold. In the building, you have more access — it’s easy to send a group out in the hall and still be able to watch them, or collaborate with the class next door.”
Because the district is growing, there will be more staff needed to serve the kids (including a new principal at Souders elementary), and Pollock said she doesn’t like seeing money being diverted to the trailers.
As for technology, every 5th- through 12th-grader this year will have a Chromebook. Last year, the laptop computers were used by Big Walnut High School students. The district’s Board of Education recently approved expanding Chromebook use for the 5th- through 8th-grades.
“We believe in teaching kids how to use technology as a tool — it doesn’t replace the other pieces involved in learning — it should be a tool to help the learning,” Pollock said.”The idea is not that they sit on that all day, but it’s a tool where they can collaborate with other students on projects; they can do their composition right on there and get feedback through Google from the teachers; it’s a resource if they need to research the internet.”
Chromebooks are also used a lot for assessments. Instead of a pencil-and-paper test that would take the teacher a while to grade and then get the data, the teacher can find out quickly if they need to go back over a subject or if the students understand the lesson.
Each student will be assigned their own Chromebook, as opposed to being shared. The school board was told that by being responsible for their own device, there were fewer equipment problems.
“Teaching them when it’s appropriate to use, that’s a life skill,” Pollock said.
All-day Kindergarten is continuing to grow in the buildings, she said. About 80 percent of incoming students are now opting for the all-day program.
“There, we’re focusing not just on academic readiness, but how to listen, get along with others, follow directions.”
In addition to tangible tools, the district is continuing to teach in a way that meets future needs.
“This is the third year of our 2020 vision for instruction, and our goal with that is by the year 2020, every kid has an experience that includes personalized instruction at their level, that’s engaging and ensures that they are growing academically, socially and emotionally,” Pollock said. “We have been working with our staff to improve in all three of those areas, and we’re really pleased with the progress we’ve made.”
The transition is to move away from teaching just the facts to communicating better.
“We’re really trying to make things relevant for kids,” Pollock continued. “We can’t teach them the same way we were taught, because a lot of the jobs they will be working haven’t even been invented yet. We have to teach kids how to be good thinkers and problem-solvers. That’s really our focus — how to collaborate with others, how to be creative and think critically.”
The first day of school is Wednesday, Aug. 16.
Gary Budzak may be reached at 740-413-0906 or on Twitter @GaryBudzak.