Meeting needs: Schools match students to experience

Demonstrating the wide range of educational needs the district is striving to meet, the Wapakoneta City Schools superintendent brought with him to a State of the Schools address four students with different stories and different dreams.

There was the special needs student with an agricultural background, the Opportunity School student who can’t drive but cares for his father full-time after a stroke, the student who plans to return to Wapakoneta to work on the family farm, and the honors student who was appointed to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

“We have a lot of different kids with a lot of different needs, whom we are trying to provide experiences where they can thrive,” Horner said of the 3,000 students attending Wapakoneta City Schools.

Addressing the Wapakoneta Area Chamber of Commerce Thursday during its annual State of the Schools, Horner talked about a new common core curriculum being adopted across the nation, changes soon to be reflected in the new state report card, finances, facilities and enrollment and staffing.

“We’ve had a very good year,” Horner said, mentioning what he described as a “very big bump in the road” in relation to contract negotiations. “But we got through it and we are continuing to work hard and educate students.”

Horner compared the new common core curriculum to a national curriculum as it has been approved by 45 states.

“It’s something common we can all shoot for,” Horner said.

He said the curriculum, to be implemented in 2013-14, is to be aligned with college and work expectations with clear and consistent goals. It would include rigorous content and application of knowledge through high-order skills and build upon strengths and lessons of current state standards, while utilizing a base from other top-performing countries to better prepare all students to succeed in a global economy and society.

At the same time as the new curriculum is beginning, the test itself will change from students taking the test with paper and pencil to one they complete on the computer. This also should provide quicker results allowing for a more thorough and timely response to that data.

Horner said changes in the state report card and how it ranks schools also are expected in 2013-14 with current determinations ranging from excellent with distinction through academic emergency being replaced with letter grades of A through F in four areas of measure including how well the district does at meeting state criteria, an average of how well students in the district perform on state tests, how well the district is doing in narrowing achievement gaps, and how effective the district is at helping students achieve a year‘s worth of growth.

“Changing how districts are ranked will make it more understandable and will change conversations in the community,” Horner said.

Financially, he said Wapakoneta City Schools lost $1.4 million in funding last year and is expected to reduce its expenditures by at least $2 million this year. In the past three years, the district has spent $2.8 million more than its incoming revenue.

“We are going in the right direction with expenditures,” Horner said. “I’m not sure if we will be able to continue to do that.”

Answering a single question from the audience, Horner said he has not heard much about how casino money could be distributed to schools but historically such funding would take away from other traditional money the district has received from the state, which is district’s number one funding source.

“We continue to work on facilities, concentrating on making them as efficient as possible,” Horner said.

Staffing wise, the district has 280 employees serving 3,030 students this year and is projected to be working with 10 fewer staff members next school year with the same number of students. Staffing has been reduced by nearly 40 employees since the recession began in 2007-08, despite enrollment numbers staying relatively the same.

“We saw this coming and started to reduce staff, including RIFs (reduction in force) since, which were unfortunate but necessary,” Horner said.

He said pay for supplemental positions has been cut and they’ve had to put staff members in situations which may be less than ideal.

“With each position we think do we need to replace it if they retire or can we fill it from within,” Horner said. “We’ve had to put people in certain positions because financially we had to.”

Citing a RIFed elementary music position next year, Horner said having one teacher for all the district’s elementary students won’t allow for the same development of relationships and isn’t ideal, but is the situation in which they have found themselves.

He said before making any decisions to go to the public for financial assistance in the future, there would need to be community discussions.

“There does come a point in time when you look at what you’re offering kids and say you can’t go any lower,” Horner said.