State of the Schools 2022

Last night, I had the opportunity and honor to share with our school community the State of the Schools. The theme for the evening was our district’s mission statement –  “Pride in our Past, Passion in the Present, and Preparing for the Future.”  Our students and staff did a tremendous job of showcasing how we are living our mission every day across Fairbanks Local Schools. 

Throughout the evening, I was able to share on-going work in the school district that is helping to plan for the near and long term. Below are some of the key highlights from the presentation. 

Growth

Our school district is growing. For the last ten years, Fairbanks Local Schools has grown annually an average of 1.38%. That means people are choosing to move to Fairbanks. For many new residents, it is because of the small community and tight knit relationships that can be built to support their children. Growth for any school district is a good thing. It means people are passionate about the school district.

While growth is a good thing for any school district, it means we must consider several factors in our planning. First is planning for capacity needs across the district. A step the school district has taken over the last four years is limiting new open enrollment in grades 1-12. Open enrolled students were 147 at the start of the 2017-18 school year and today sit at 92. We project next year that number will be between 75-80 students. Even with that drop in open enrolled students, our total enrollment is 21 students larger than the start of the 2017-18 school year.

Another consideration are the financial resources of the district. Our schools are primarily funded by two sources: locally generated tax funds and the state foundation. Fairbanks has been a flat funded school district from the state of Ohio for the last several budget cycles. Our local revenue has grown over the last several years both through property valuation and income, but we know that is cyclical in nature forcing us to be conservative when evaluating expenditures. Typically, we are spending 78%-82% of our operational dollars for personnel services. To meet the needs of growth, this forces our planning for personnel to shift in areas where we have collapsed some administrative support positions, allocated COVID relief funding, and realignment of positions to meet needs. Currently, our fiscal position is very good with a stable cash balance. We anticipate being on the ballot to renew our substitute levy in 2022 or 2023.

Growth is exciting for any school district. It means people are choosing to move to Fairbanks and are investing in our schools. It also requires our school district to responsibly plan to balance our community resources balancing efficiency and effectiveness. A focus on our passion today leads us to preparing for tomorrow.

Opportunities

We want all students to connect with something they are passionate about, both inside the classroom and in the school community. When I was a building principal, parents of rising 9th graders would ask what is the most important thing a 9th grader can do to be successful? The most important thing a 9th grader can do is get connected to something they care about. Honestly, it doesn’t matter what that thing is as long as kids are passionate about it.

This connection has a direct impact on classroom performance. Several studies show a direct correlation to participation in school athletics and increased GPA’s. Studies also reveal students engaged in multiple activities have higher classroom performance, less attendance issues, and connection to non-academic competencies like time management, leadership qualities, and persistence. There is also a direct connection to positive self-image and holistic development  when students connect with activities they are passionate about.

Currently, 68% of our high school students participate in extracurricular activities. We offer 20 varsity sports, co-curricular activities like FFA, FCCLA, and Marching Band, drama club, and robotics. One of our robotics teams that you will see later tonight as qualified for the world championships in Dallas, TX.  Just this year students have started the P.L.U.S. (Positive Leadership Uniting Students) and coding club. Ultimately, if a student has interest and an adult to support it, we will help create opportunities. As we continue to grow as a district, these interests become broader with the ultimate goal of connecting students to activities they are passionate about.

Facilities

Preparing for the future means planning in the present. In December 2021, our school district began a Master Facility Planning process. This is a planning process, not a singular project. Our school board has pulled together 54 district stakeholders ranging from parents, students, community partners, and staff to lead a task force to help develop the planning steps. The ideas will then be taken to our community for feedback. This cycle will continue until a level of consensus is met. At this point, there have been three task forces and two community meetings. Our next community meeting will be on May 19.

For the planning process, our school district has emphasized three items:

–          An open, community driven process

–          A Focus on accuracy and transparency

–          No predetermined outcomes

There are three items that are being addressed through this planning process. They are the 3C’s of facilities:

–          Capacity: The number of students we serve is growing. This is felt acutely in elementary school right now. The other piece to capacity is the programming needed to support our students. This includes special education students with very specific needs as well as the number of programs such as pre-school, robotics, wrestling, and softball that are served off campus.

–          Curriculum: As Mrs. Chapman outlined earlier, we are revamping delivery options for students in the high school. However, these are not the only spaces that need to be considered. For example, one of our current physical science classrooms is a former home ec lab and does not have basic infrastructure needs like propane burner for experiments. The average square footage in the building is 720 square feet (our elementary is 910 sq feet) limiting flexibility of instructional delivery that is needed to meet instructional expectations of our coursework. This does not start to discuss ways to deliver engineering or updated agricultural curriculum many students will use entering the work force or post-secondary education.

–          Capital Improvements: The buildings here were built in 1961 and 1978. Several systems including heating, ventilation, and air conditioning, electrical, technology, and school safety are under the standard for schools in the state of Ohio. These assessments are included on our These are systems that allow our schools to function for teaching and learning. We are also beginning to start permanent improvements in the elementary school, so we do not need complete system overhauls through the life of the building.

Our task force and community will develop options to address these needs. This will take a comprehensive lens including how to responsibly fund these projects and how to scale in overtime. We want to take a proactive approach to this process allowing for flexibility while meeting short term, intermediate, and long-term needs. I am truly excited about this work. It is a chance for our community to build a shared future and leave a tremendous legacy for future Panthers!

It was my honor and privilege to share that the state of our schools is very strong. We are lucky to live and serve in Fairbanks every day. Thank you for all you do for Fairbanks!!

Mrs. Tina Hall introduced one of our robotic teams from the elementary school. 

  • Adham Schirg, Fairbanks Local Schools, Superintendent

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