Big Walnut Local Schools recently welcomed 29 new staff members on board, 23 of them teachers.
Most new teaching staff are replacements for retirees and teachers who moved on to pursue teaching opportunities elsewhere, district Director of Academic Achievement Jen Young said during last week’s Big Walnut Board of Education meeting,
Assistant Superintendent Mark Cooper said nine new teachers were added to the school district to accommodate growth in class sizes, and also to help lower growing class sizes.
Superintendent Angie Pollock said early numbers indicate that Big Walnut will serve 3,400 students this school year, up 100 students over last year. Pollock also noted that was not a firm number; final numbers will not be available until late enrollees are added and reported to the Ohio Department of Education in October.
“Our class sizes were getting large, and we have more kids coming,” Pollock said. “We could have added eight more teachers. One of the things we’re doing as a district, project-based learning, requires keeping class size down; but keeping class sizes down is a challenge.”
To put escalating growth in perspective, Pollock said, in May Big Walnut High School graduated 224 students; the current junior class contains 265 students, and the district’s fourth grade is now 300 students.
“We’re planning right now on adding a teacher in each content area in the high school next year,” Pollock said. “But every time we get the numbers down, more students come.”
Board member Allison Fagan noted the economic impact of additional students, exacerbated by costly state and federal requirements that come without funding.
“I discussed with our state representative, Margaret Ann Ruhl, about unfunded state mandates, and about state testing,” Fagan said. “She didn’t seem especially knowledgeable about that.”
When it comes to proficiency testing, Fagan said the state should “back off” for districts that are performing well.
“Big Walnut is an excellent school district, not because of support from the state, but in spite of it,” Fagan added.
Board Vice President Andy Wecker agreed with Fagan.
“Decisions are best made closest to where the activity is,” Wecker said. “Not in some capital someplace.”
Wecker said getting feedback from alumni five to 10 years out would be better than state-mandated testing.
“They could tell us a lot about how Big Walnut prepared them,” Wecker said.
Wecker also said he has filed with the Delaware County Board of Elections to seek another term as a school board member.
“I never thought we would make this amount of progress that we’ve made in the last four years, but it was already happening when I came on the board,” Wecker said.
Reporter Lenny C. Lepola can be reached at 614-266-6093