State of the Schools – 2021

Last week, I had the opportunity to virtually share our State of the Schools. I truly appreciate those staff and community members that took time to learn about the work that is happening across Fairbanks Local Schools. Below is the information that was shared during the presentation.

I apologize for the lengthy read, but there is great stuff happening in our district. Thank you for everything you do For Fairbanks!


“Good evening! Welcome to the 2020 – 2021 Fairbanks Local Schools State of the Schools. 

Thank you for taking time out of your evening to learn about our schools and invest in our school district. We are thankful to serve in a school community that values our schools. The support we receive is humbling and we are truly grateful to our parents, residents, and community partners. Tonight, I hope to share the great work that is happening across our schools everyday. 

If we have not had the opportunity to meet, my name is Adham Schirg and I get to serve as Superintendent in Fairbanks Local Schools. 

We are fortunate to live in a state that truly values local control of education. Our locally elected board of education meets regularly to oversee the policy, direction, and mission of the school district. We are truly thankful for their service and commitment to students, staff, and the community they represent. I would to thank and recognize Board President Mr. Derek Nicol, Vice-President Mr. Brian Phelps, Board Member Mrs. Lisa Adkins, Board Member Mrs. Angie Bouic, and Board Member Mr. Mark Lippencott. 

A school district is only as strong as the people that are serving students everyday. We have caring, committed, and highly-skilled professionals that serve across our school district. Our teachers, school counselors, certified support staff, school secretaries, custodian and maintenance personnel, transportation team, food service staff, and administrative teams put students first everyday. Our staff is second to none and are the backbone of our schools. On behalf of our teaching staff, I would like to recognize Ms. Lisa Keller-Cook, President of the Fairbanks Education Association. 

The last thirteen months have shown me the character of Fairbanks. Its students, staff, and families are tough. They are resilient. They can adapt to challenges while caring for each other. Each of you attending tonight have done tough things for Fairbanks this year. You have sacrificed sleepovers, seeing family members, or going to social events to prioritize our schools and children. It has not been perfect, nor did it have to be. It had to be working in a common direction. That defines toughness. Despite the challenges, we persevere and show we can do tough things together. 

After the year we have worked through, I am happy to say the State of the Fairbanks Local School District is Strong. Our students, staff, families, and community are working diligently to ensure it stays strong. This evening we will highlight the curricular, extra and co-curricular, and operational pieces of our school district while keeping an eye on the development of our shared future. It is truly a great time to be a Panther!!

Five Expectations

In Fairbanks Local Schools, there are five expectations we have for all staff:

  • Care About Kids
  • Connect
  • Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
  • Believe in Growth
  • Care About Kids

We book end “Care About Kids” because it is the most important thing we do. 

Before we jump in, I want to tell a story. Earlier this school year, one of our staff members saw a young lady who was upset in the hallway. She was crying. The adult pulled the young woman outside and sat with her on a bench for thirty minutes. The adult listened letting her express what was happening. There was a combination of trigger events from home, school, and friends that manifested in the hallway. This staff member put off answering emails, planning, or grading papers to make sure this young lady was safe, heard, and cared for. They made a plan to check in once a week and have continued to do this throughout the school year. I was so proud of this staff member. 

Some people may shrug their shoulders and say “that is what you are supposed to do”. I could not disagree more. This is not the norm in many places, but when you “Care about Kids” and that is the most important thing you do it becomes the norm. These expectations are aspirational, something we work toward everyday. We all know we will fall short at times, but these five expectations are a starting point for our staff. 

Mission, Vision, and Portrait of a Panther

A mission is different from a goal. Things can get in your way from achieving a goal. Variables that you do not have control over can derail even the best laid plans. Missions are different. Missions are something you can wake up every morning and have a singular focus for. Missions change their course if an obstacle arises. Ultimately, a mission is the “why” we each do something, either professionally or personally. 

Starting in January of 2020, 42 people were invited to join a task force that would work on aligning the mission of Fairbanks Local Schools. At that time there were five different mission statements in Fairbanks. One for each school building, one in board policy, and one created by the district leadership team in 2019. Each of these captured parts of Fairbanks Local Schools, but did not pull all members in the same direction. The invitees to the task force were selected by representative groups like the Fairbanks Education Association, Band Boosters, and FFA. Additionally, community meetings and surveys were conducted to gather feedback.  This allowed for multiple perspectives to be captured in the development of this work. 

Our final face to face meeting was on March 10, 2020. That night was so energizing. We had students like Emily Truskoski stand up in front of teachers, board members, and parents to defend their position. At the end of that night, the task force came to consensus on a mission statement. Two days later our schools physically closed for what eventually would be the remainder of the school year. While we continued our collective work, I am not sure we would have gotten the consensus that we did without the passion and constructive conflict of that night. 

The Board of Education officially accepted the mission statement at the regular meeting in January of 2021. That leads to the tough part. Many places, in fact most organizations, have mission statements. The tough part is bringing the mission to life. 

“In Fairbanks Local Schools, we have Pride in our Past, Passion in the present, and Preparing for the Future.”

Our mission is aspirational. It is something we can work on everyday together. 

If the mission is the why, the vision statements are our how. Our task force developed four vision statements to help guide decision making in Fairbanks. They are: 

  • We will engage each learner with diverse and balanced opportunities to maximize individual growth.
  • We will empower each learner to create and cultivate connections for a safe physical, academic, social, and emotional environment. 
  • We will nurture and inspire trusted relationships that allow for transparency leading to community involvement in continuous student growth. 
  • We will implement frameworks that support ethical, equitable, and efficient distribution of fiscal, human, and physical resources. 

These statements are then supported by strategic objectives that are specific, measurable, and outcome oriented. Our district leadership team, consisting of parents, teachers, administrative staff, and a board representative, are finalizing these objectives. They will be ready for the start of the 2021 – 2022 school year. 

One objective will be the full implementation of the Portrait of a Panther. We want all students to have common experiences. To do this, a framework was developed by our task force and community feedback. The skills, knowledge, and attributes identified as key pieces to a fairbanks students experience was captured as:

  • Panther Head
  • Panther Heart
  • Panther Muscles

Our teaching and building level teams will develop how this will look for grade bands across the district including key transitional pieces during a student time in Fairbanks such as the end of 5th, 8th, and 12th grades. 

We are excited to align our work across Fairbanks! These steps help to support a positive working culture inside our district while providing common experiences for our students, families, and community members. 

At this time, I will pause for questions specifically about our mission, vision, POP or five expectations.

Curricular

One of my many mentors once told me, “Adham, the reason a school district exists is student learning”. Our school district is a learning organization focused on improving academic experiences for all students. This is a blend of proven educational practices, evolution to meet the needs of today’s learners, and professional expertise. 

Our students experience a variety of academic settings beginning in pre-school and ending in high school graduation. We have elementary students creating books, middle school students engaged in robotics, and high school students taking college courses at the Ohio State Marion Branch Campus. 

Starting with pre-school, our staff work with students to provide a personalized experience. We have several students that receive special education services helping to support a head start heading into kindergarten. Once in elementary school, our full-day kindergarten students are immersed in reading, writing, and math while balancing learning with play. These early panthers are exploring in their classes and learning healthy academic, social, and emotional habits. 

Our K-3 grade band has a heavy literacy focus preparing students for the 3rd grade State Reading Test, more commonly known as the 3rd grade guarantee. More importantly, our students are confident readers. These are the years where students learn to read but then shift to reading to learn. 

Moving into 4 and 5 grades, our students engage in more rigorous content. They begin to switch content areas as teachers prepare them for middle and high school schedules. Our classroom teachers are using multiple instructional models and strategies including formative instructional practices, clear learning targets, peer and self-assessment, and direct instruction to support individual learners. Highly effective instructional practices coupled with caring, committed, and highly professional classroom staff members set up our students for success as they prepare to transition to middle school. 

Our elementary school has been honored as a Hall of Fame School. Students have been recognized for a variety of work with robotics, destination imagination, and the Ohio Energy Project.  

Entering middle school, our 6th graders move into the building they will spend the next seven years. In addition to our traditional core classes, middle school students begin to explore more personalized interests including robotics, art, band, career exploration, and speech. They can explore agricultural science and their options for school-based participation greatly expands. These experiences are critical as our young people develop as individual thinkers and begin to take on more responsibility for their own learning. 

Our middle school has put into place the Project Lead the Way pathway for all students. The Advisory program teaches competencies such as Time Management and Self-Awareness. As students begin to take more responsibility for their learning, reinforcing these competencies supports their growth as students and people. 

Our middle school continues to stretch the academic, social, and emotional learning, setting them up to be successful middle schoolers and preparing their transition to high school. Our high school is a comprehensive 9-12 high school that annually boasts a graduation rate above 97%. Our students take many required courses during their 9th and 10th grade years allowing for more personalization as they approach graduation. 

Students have access to fine arts, vocal and instrumental music, advanced placement, college credit plus, technology, and agricultural classes. Students have the opportunity to attend Tolles Tech, explore career classes, or complete an internship. This year we had 31 students engaged in College Credit Plus classes. Our overall goal is to connect students with classes that meet their ability, interest, and talents. Even though we are a small school, we strive to be as close to an “and/both”, rather than “either/or”. 

83% of our students are going to post-secondary education, whether a four-year college, a two-year college, or technical/trade school. Annually, we have students that choose to enlist in a branch of the armed service. Our school community is honored and humbled to be a part of the success our students have as they leave our school for their next step, whether that is enrollment, enlistment, or employment. 

In Fairbanks Local Schools, we are deeply focused on continuous improvement. Our commitment to learning extends well beyond our students and looks at all adults as learners. We continually look at data, areas of improvement, and create continuous improvement plans to support our growth.  Additionally, we are always examining the course offerings and paths offered to our students. Our intent is to continually examine practices to match the needs for life after high school extending to the workplace, post-secondary education, or military service. Our obligation is to strive to make sure 100% of our graduates are ready for their personal future when they leave our schools. 

What curricular questions do you have? 

Extra and Co-Curricular 

Building on the academic growth our students experience during their time in Fairbanks, we want students to enjoy experiences that support their passions, interests, and talents outside of the classroom. Our community truly values the experiences students enjoy through extra-curricular and co-curricular opportunities. The learning and skills that students build through sports, robotics, marching band, or FFA often produce transferable skills that will impact a person’s growth into adulthood. 

This fall, 67% of our high school students participated in a sport or marching band. This does not include the number of students engaged in clubs like FCCLA or FFA. That is two-thirds of our high school engaged in something beyond the classroom. One thing we all know and research also supports, the more connected students are with their school community the better they perform in the classroom. 

Starting in elementary school, our students begin to engage in clubs like student council, robotics, and destination imagination. As students enter middle school they begin to experience interscholastic sports, national junior honor society, and robotics. Our high school experience is covered with extended opportunities. In addition to traditional sports, we have activities like mock trial, FFA, FCCLA, and National Honor Society.

We do have challenges as we grow and more interests develop. There are limits to offerings due to fiscal and facility resources, but we encourage students, staff, and community members to connect with our schools to share ideas. Typically, we can find ways to support student interests and develop ways for them to connect with our schools.

Again, I will pause for questions regarding our extra or co-curricular offerings? 

Finances and Business Operations

At home, I believe in keeping my “Front Porch” clean. If you ever drive past our home, my hope is you get a great first impression. The same principle holds true for our school district.  So much of our operations are things you do not notice until you do. That is why we need to keep our front porch clean. Our front porch consists of our business and financial operations. This includes our buses, school support staff, maintenance and custodial services, and food service staff. These caring professionals truly take care of our “Front Porch” every day. 

School districts start and end with district finances. As an organization we are truly grateful for the support local residents provide our district. 62% of revenues come from locally generated property and income tax. Another 18% comes as unrestricted state aid, meaning it goes into our general fund. Without our local residents’ support we would not be able to provide the services we provide to students. Our goal is to be good stewards of these tax dollars balancing effectiveness and efficiency. 

The big question is “What is the financial state of our school district?”. Overall, our financial position is good. With the renewal of the 5-year substitute levy in 2018, our school district is in relatively good shape for the next several years.The renewal of our Permanent Improvement levy in November of 2020 has added to that stability over the coming years. This income tax provides funds for permanent improvements to our buildings such as roof replacement, asbestos removal, and maintaining our facilities. 

We anticipate entering deficit spending over the next two to three fiscal years, but that is anticipated in public education spending. Our financial services department monitors long-term costs allowing us to absorb this spending cycle. As we consider the financial picture in our district, there are a few items to consider:

  • Fairbanks Local Schools has not asked for new operating funds since 2008.
  • State revenue has been relatively flat over the last several years. Following COVID-19 cuts last spring, we will return to 2019 funding levels under this biennium budget from the state. Fairbanks receives considerably less state dollars per pupil than many of our surrounding districts. Since we have high property valuation in proportion to our student population, this per pupil funding has been around $2400.00. 
  • HB1, also called the Fair Funding Formula, is currently in the Statehouse and has been rolled into HB110 (The Biennium Budget Bill). This legislation would provide a more stable and predictable funding formula for all schools. For Fairbanks, we would see a slight increase in state unrestricted funding if the legislation passes. 
  • Expenditures are anticipated to increase 3-4% annually due to increased costs, inflation, etc. Our budget process and financial services office provides oversight to control cost and expenditures. This includes non-renewing positions lost by attrition, conducting energy saving programs, and extending replacement cycles on technology. 

Aaron Johnson, our district treasurer, has been recognized several times by the Auditor of the state. His office has received state recognition for the last three years. This is a credit to the work of our financial services department. Our goal as a district is to live up to the commitments we have made to our community. This responsibility is one we do not take lightly as we try to balance effectiveness and efficiencies. 

Our biggest operational and educational challenges in the foreseeable future are our growth and facilities. Any time we are faced with a challenge, we can choose to see it as an opportunity. I am grateful that people choose to move to Fairbanks Local Schools. That shows that our staff and community make this a great place to educate children, invest in a community, and raise a family. 

Since 2011-2012, Fairbanks Local Schools has grown from 1026 students to 1119 (we are currently at 1124). Over the last three years, we have frozen new open enrollment students in grades 1 – 12 to manage growth within our district boundaries. Currently, this has impacted our elementary school the most. This presents challenges for both staffing and space. We anticipate moderate growth over the next several years. Our average growth percentage since 2011-2012 is 1.38%. This aligns with our 2017 enrollment study.  

Over the next twelve months, we anticipate conducting a master facility planning process. This will be a community effort; this process will reflect the needs, voice, and stewardship leading into our shared future. Some of this work has already begun across our district. A building and grounds committee began meeting in March to look at short and long term needs across the district. Our board has been visiting other school districts to learn about other community planning processes and identifying a process that will match the needs of the Fairbanks community. We recently met with the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission to discuss how our district would partner with their agency. We have been enrolled in the Expedited Local Partnership Program (ELPP) with the construction of our elementary school. This group will help us with an updated enrollment study and facility assessment as a part of our community process. Please look for communications through the website, social media, and print materials to discuss the process. 

At this time, we can open up for dialogue and questions. Please use the chat function as well. 

In Fairbanks Local Schools, that State of our Schools is good. We have deep pride in our community as well as high expectations for our schools. As panthers, we embrace these expectations and love to share the amazing things our students and staff do everyday. Please reach out anytime and thank you for everything you do for Fairbanks!!”

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