In recently released state report cards, Olentangy Local Schools earned an “A” grade in highest value-added gain index for students with disabilities, making it the number one district in Ohio in that category.
“This means our students rank the highest in the state of Ohio in gaining more than a year’s worth of growth in the 2014-15 academic year,” said Superintendent Mark Raiff in a letter on the district’s website. “In addition, our overall gain index, the measure for value-added progress, is more than double the next closest school district in the entire state.”
Students with disabilities make up 12 percent, or 2,319 of the 19,350 students in Olentangy schools. Director of Pupil Services Marty Arganbright explained how his department helps those students at a recent Board of Education meeting.
“Think of it as two areas,” Arganbright said to the board on March 10. “Supporting students with learning differences (including autism and English language learners); and supporting students with non-academic barriers to learning (such as substance abuse).”
Students with learning differences start out in a special needs preschool class offered in nine of the district’s elementary schools. To qualify, the child must have been evaluated and had an Individualized Education Program in place by their third birthday. There are currently 426 students in the preschool program, a 9 percent jump over last year.
“We’ve had a lot of positive parent responses with our preschool program,” Arganbright said. “We’re very proud of what they do to prepare our students for school.”
There are 425 new English as a Second Language students evaluated for the 2015-16 school year, representing more than 40 dialects. The state’s new test is the Ohio English Language Proficiency Assessment.
For second- and fourth-graders, Glen Oak Elementary has a “GOES Group of Friends” among students and staff that is designed to build friendships and respect for all students.
Among the services offered to students with non-academic barriers to learning are free flu shots and EpiPens, social workers, meals, transportation and shelter for the homeless.
“There are 17 students currently displaced. Last year there were 11. We want to make sure they miss a minimal amount of school,” Arganbright said.
“What we are doing is making sure our students are coming prepared to learn,” said board member Julie Wagner-Feasel. “If they have a substance abuse problem, then they cannot learn all the time. That’s why we need to make sure we have the support in place. We want all students to have the tools to be able to learn.”
The district has 541 support staff, including teachers, intervention specialists and therapists, on hand to assist students. Arganbright said they need more professional development in the future.
“We want to look at opportunities for us to improve to better support kids,” he said. “It can only help us get better.”
In addition to students with disabilities, Olentangy also had the highest value-added gain index for all students and gifted students as well, out of 611 districts in Ohio.
“That’s a lot of hard work from a lot of students, staff and families working together to provide great opportunities for our students in Olentangy schools,” Arganbright said.
Gary Budzak may be reached at 740-413-0904 or on Twitter @GaryBudzak.