Tallmadge -- The first day of school for students in the Tallmadge City School District is Aug. 18, and administrators, teachers and staff are preparing for a busy academic year.
Eleven new teachers have joined the school district for 2014-15 and attended service training Aug. 13.
"They come from varied experiences, different districts, different places. Some recent grads, some have been in the profession a few years," Superintendent Jeff Ferguson said. "We're very excited about this group coming in. It's one of the larger groups we've had in a while. We typically average maybe three to five new staff, so 11 is a little larger."
Some of the security upgrades for school buildings are in place, while others are expected to be completed this year. According to the school district's Business Director Steve Wood, Munroe Elementary is the last school building to have a secure, electronically monitored system at the entrance that permits authorized personnel to enter the building with key fobs. Dunbar Primary School's front entrance already had the system as part of the vestibule that was added last summer so another door of the building was outfitted with the system. It costs the school district $2,000 per entrance to add the system to each entrance, Wood said.
Each school building also now has a radio that can be used in the event of an imminent emergency, including a situation involving an active shooter. The district used $8,000 from a state School Security Grant that's administered by the Ohio School Facilities Commission to pay for the project.
The school district is planning to use an additional $10,000 from the same grant to upgrade the video surveillance systems at the middle school and high school.
The school district's upgraded website, which launched Aug. 11, features a more efficient way to manage student forms that are required for enrollment in school and participation in sports. The website allows parents to complete and update annual paperwork.
New leadership, programs
Tallmadge High School is under new leadership this year with the promotion of Mike Householder from assistant principal to principal. Householder takes the place of former Principal Rebecca DeCapua. Mike Bluey is now serving as the assistant principal.
The high school is now offering two additional Dual Enrollment courses, which students can take and simultaneously earn both high school and college credits, and is also debuting an online program, called Assessment and Learning Knowledge Space [ALEKS] that's designed to reinforce math skills in students.
Sixth-graders at the middle school will participate in a new program that seeks to improve their performance in school. The Dick and Linda Jacobs Foundation awarded the school district a $6,000 grant to carry out Mindfulness Training, a daily, reflective practice similar to meditation in which students can focus on their emotions.
"What we're hoping to do is help kids socially and emotionally in order to improve learning outcomes in school; that builds strong, compassionate relationships, happiness and working on that total child," Ferguson said.
Staff professional development
The Ohio Office of Exceptional Children awarded the school district a grant to help teachers with designing and teaching quality lessons based on the new Common Core curriculum for all students. Experts will be working with the staff this fall to implement the program called Universal Design for Learning.
"Every classroom has varying abilities and varying needs for their students. This is designed to look at best practices that meet the different types of learners and take them where they are, assess where they are, and take them where you want to go," Ferguson said.
The grant consists of state support in the form the training and resources rather than a dollar amount, which saves the school district money. A school district could pay between $400 to $700 per day for five to seven days if it were to hire a consultant to carry out the training without the grant, Ferguson said.
Another aspect of the grant is a book study hosted by Twitter in which the staff will participate. Teachers around the country will read a book about Universal Design for Learn and discuss it with the book's author and several college professors who specialize in this topic during a scheduled session on the social media website.
Required online assessments delayed
Earlier this year, the Ohio Department of Education delayed its mandate for all public school districts to give online assessments beginning with this school year, according to Ferguson. Although a few of the assessments are still required to be online, including those for middle-schoolers and the Ohio Graduation Tests for ninth- through 11th-graders, the others are optional.
The Ohio Achievement Assessments for third through fifth grades will be in paper and pencil form, but students will take practice tests online throughout the year to familiarize themselves, he said.
"The wireless capacity of many districts is still way behind where we are. We're very fortunate that we have been kind of progressive," he said, adding Tallmadge Schools was prepared to give all of the assessments online.
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