With the 2021-22 school year entering its final months, Olentangy Local School District (OLSD) Superintendent Mark Raiff addressed the Board of Education with a State of the Schools presentation during Wednesday’s meeting.
Last summer, Raiff updated the board on the progress of the district in its four priorities that make up its strategic plan. Those priorities are students and stakeholders, resource stewardship, internal processes, and learning and organizational development. Wednesday’s update served to present “a broader perspective related to the strategic priorities and organizational goals with reference to our current state and the future direction of our organization,” according to Raiff.
Raiff began by saying that in looking at the district’s progress related to its strategic plan, it’s important to understand the context in which the district has been accomplishing its work. In particular, Raiff highlighted the district’s work in navigating the pandemic and all the challenges associated with bringing students back to the classrooms this year.
“As we navigated facilitating maximum learning in a COVID world, we continued to offer our students meaningful experiences within the health parameters and met students where they were in all facets,” Raiff told the board.
He added that through the pandemic, the district grew “in all ways,” including enrollment, enhanced programs such as distance learning, the number of schools, and what the district learned throughout the pandemic while emerging from it as now the fourth largest school district in the state.
In addressing the district’s progress pertaining to the four pillars of the strategic plan, Raiff started with students and stakeholders. The pillar is made up of three components that include alleviating barriers to learning, promoting a culture of inclusive excellence, and expanding community engagement and relationships.
“I’m very proud of the progress we have made in this area, for we cannot truly facilitate maximum learning for every student unless we alleviate non-academic barriers to learning,” he said. “We often believe that the work we do in education can be life-changing, but the work we do in regard to addressing non-academic barriers to learning can actually be life-saving.”
Raiff spoke of a seminar in June of last year with Ohio State football head coach Ryan Day and Dr. Parker Huston, of Nationwide Children’s Hospital, in which they spoke of the pressures on children to perform, mental health, as well as strategies for parents to support their children. The seminar has led to additional partnerships for the district’s Parent Academy with Nationwide Children’s On Our Sleeves program.
Moving forward, he said the district will continue to focus on improving the programs and practices in place while expanding on existing partnerships.
Raiff said of the community engagement that exists throughout the district, “If you want to see community engagement at its finest, attend any event at any one of our 27 buildings and you will see the outpouring of support from students, parents and staff.”
Speaking on the district’s resource stewardship, Raiff highlighted the district’s ability to take advantage of historically low interest rates, refunding more than $148 million in debt and saving the district more than $22 million in gross savings, as well as the passing of the Fair School Funding Plan in the state budget and the allocation of more than $20 million in pandemic funds to the district.
With regard to modeling fiscal responsibility and transparency, Raiff pointed out the district’s 10-year run of being given the Ohio Auditor of State Award with Distinction as the clearest indicator of the district’s clean and accurate record keeping.
Implementing a digital conversion stands as one of the three primary goals of the internal processes pillar of the strategic plan. Raiff suggested a digital conversion is never fully complete as technology is constantly evolving and improving. The district’s goal, he said, is “to continue to try and streamline all of our processes for parents, staff, and students, and prioritize network accessibility, reliability and speed.”
He added, “School and classroom operations rely on technology for basic operation, so we must continue to ensure a stable technology environment. If we aren’t planning ahead for increasing speeds and more devices being connected to our network, we will severely damage the efficiency and effectiveness of our district operations.”
Raiff concluded his presentation by addressing the district’s learning and organizational development, which includes establishing a brand identity. Over the past few years, Olentangy has undergone a districtwide rebranding initiative that he said has consisted of creating visual representations that are “inclusive and consistent” while eliminating any trademark infringements.
The new logos have also allowed the district to apply for trademarks, creating a new income stream for the schools.
Lastly, Raiff spoke of ensuring mastery of learning, another goal within the pillar of learning and organizational development. He said that while academic excellence is consistent across the schools, the district is never complacent in striving to build on that excellence.
“We know that we can always get better,” he said. “We’ve developed benchmarks in our annual report, with standards higher than the norms of our similar districts and the state. We do this so we can continue to challenge ourselves to provide a better academic experience for all of our students.”
According to Raiff, the district met 18 of the 21 indicators that make up the latest annual report.
Raiff closed the presentation by saying, “As I conclude, and we move through our day-to-day activities and responsibilities, it’s difficult to pause and reflect on the impactful work that happens every day here in Olentangy. This report gives all of us on the leadership team the opportunity to do just that — pause and reflect. It also holds us accountable and ensures that we are purposeful in our work as we continue to move this district forward.
“I can say without reservation, I can say confidently that our students, staff, leaders, parents, and everyone here strives to live the mission to facilitate maximum learning for every student every day, and I am infinitely proud of the people and the work that makes Olentangy Schools the special place it is.”
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.