The senseless violence and loss of life in Westerville and Parkland, Florida have once again brought the concerns of our own safety, and the safety of our children, to the forefront of local, state, and national attention. As we watch the news and face our own reality, we do so with apprehension, anger, and hopelessness. We hear prognosticators and experts debate hot topic political issues, we engage in personal conversations about what can be done, and we hug our kids just a little longer each day.
As an educational leader, I wish there were a single answer. I pray each night and morning for the safety of our community, of our schools, and of our students. In Hilliard we averted a potential tragedy because we practiced “see something say something” and at that moment prayers were answered. We live each day with both intentional practice and hope. We are empowered to take steps to keep our children safe, but we also live with the stark reality that we can’t guarantee that the unimaginable will never happen in our community.
As your superintendent, I can assure you the district has taken numerous steps over the past several years to enhance our building security and to increase the mental health services we provide to students. Please know the work is never done. There is no finish line and it will never be “good enough.” Our practices and procedures are fluid . . . we live our growth mindset and aim to improve every single day.
There are some steps we’ve taken that are part of our emergency planning with law enforcement and first responders that we simply don’t share with the public. Our emergency plans are purposefully not subject to public record laws – this is for the protection of everyone involved. Let’s make it simple, we don’t want the bad guys to see our plans. There are other steps we’ve taken that are evident through our policies and structure.
Our high schools now employ the same access system that was previously used at other buildings. We strive to limit access points during the school day. We have also added hundreds of additional cameras district wide to provide video access to both the exterior and interior of our buildings. Our partnership with the Hilliard Police and Norwich Fire and Rescue, and when circumstances merit the Joint Terrorism Task Force, FBI, Columbus Police and State Highway Patrol, is essential in keeping our students safe. I can’t imagine having stronger and more trusted partners than we have in Hilliard.
Starting with the 2018-19 School Year we will be adding an additional professional development day prior to the first student day in August. This day will be dedicated to safety training and drills with our first responders. Our district’s Joint Safety Committee is already at work creating the scenarios and activities for our staff. This is in addition to the building level training exercises. These days both assist us in preventing potential events and prepare us if a situation takes place. Preparing for the unthinkable saves lives, training is essential.
In Hilliard, we are committed to enhancing the mental health services and social emotional work we do in the district. At the State of the Schools in October, we launched our Ready for Tomorrow initiative. We know schools can’t simply teach academics; our work is about the whole child. We are now measuring specific social emotional attributes of our students. We have the opportunity to identify at-risk students; to help students with low self-esteem or belonging issues. We have added licensed social workers over the last two years, with dedicated clinicians at each high school and additional support at all levels. Our partnership with Syntero provides great resources to our school, parents, and community.
While there is no single action that will keep all our young people safe, there are immediate actions each of us can do to be part of the overall effort.
- Listen to the young people in your life. Take the time to engage in active conversations. With teenagers specifically, this can sometimes be a challenge. It requires time. As a family, put away the devices at dinner and listen to what’s taking place. Speak with your children about “See Something, Say Something” and encourage them to reach out if they know someone who needs help.
- Log into your child’s social media accounts, photo stream, and text messages. Your children have no expectation of privacy from their parents – be proactive and make it a priority. In almost every tragedy, there were warning signs. Follow your children’s posts and sign-up for alerts. Follow your children’s friends . . . intentionally know what is happening in their lives.
- If something bothers you, if your gut tells you something is wrong, step-up and do something. Syterno has resources for emergencies – https://www.syntero.org/emergency-information/. Don’t let yourself be talked into a narrative of inaction. If you have knowledge of a specific threat, call the police.
- Finally, if you have concerns about someone else’s child, call them. I know it is uncomfortable; we all know that no one wants to hear bad news. But ask yourself one question, “if someone has concerns about my child’s safety and health, would I want to know?” If you have concerns, make the call. It could save a life.
Young people across America are taking note and finding a voice. Students are talking about the balance between personal liberties and public safety. Adults and parents are asking tough questions. Your district leaders are actively engaged with law enforcement and first responders to provide the safest possible environment. Your district leaders are expanding cybersecurity and monitoring operations at the school and community level. Your district leaders partner with parents, health care professional and mental health professionals to provide services to those in need. There are no easy answers; there is no single tool we can purchase. It takes a village for us to keep young people safe; our Hilliard community will come together, have the tough conversations, and continue to prepare each and every child to be Ready for Tomorrow.
The Hilliard City School District takes pride in our implementation of technology in the education of the whole child. As we live our district mission, to ensure that every student is Ready for Tomorrow, we know that technology is part of our students’ world today and will be an even larger part in the world of tomorrow. From autonomous cars to artificial intelligence, from medical advances extending lifespans into the 100’s to the ethical challenges of 24/7/365 connectivity, today’s public schools are required to be leaders in technology implementation.
Our district also takes tremendous pride, and we embrace the responsibility, to prepare well-rounded, socially skilled, and emotionally balanced students. For us, educating the whole child isn’t only about preparation for graduation. Educating the whole child is about preparation for life. Social and emotional learning demands the same attention to detail, the same focus, as the academic foundation we provide each student. It is required of today’s schools to balance the implementation of technology with the development of interpersonal and social skills. It is imperative that students can work in groups – that they understand the Power of the Team. Future success will require students to embrace a growth mindset and a future of continued learning.
February is Digital Wellness Month in the Hilliard City School District. As nationally recognized leaders in the area of instructional technology, we also strive to be leaders in student safety, wellness, and balance. Technology is a tool – not a way of life. Life is built on relationships, service, and health . . . life is about balance. In the Hilliard Schools we embrace this commitment; our values are grounded in this work.
During February you will hear, read, and watch information purposefully crafted to start conversations with young people. We encourages families to engage in these same conversations at home; it takes all of us working together to keep students safe and healthy. We will talk about Wellness & Balance – we are social beings and must cultivate relationships and face-to-face interaction. Etiquette provides us the opportunity to talk about being a positive, optimistic voice on social media and through technology. Citizenship is about honesty and responsibility. Safety demands that we are always mindful of what we share, with whom we share, and where we share information.
To kick off the month we will have a showing of the movie Screenagers for parents on Wednesday, January 31. You can read more about this look into the digital world of our teens on our web page.
Our technology department and professional staff take great pride in the work we do in Hilliard. We continually live our growth mindset and embrace new technology as it emerges to keep our schools on the cutting edge. At the same time, we know there are foundational principles that we share as a community. We are proud to work together during February, during Digital Wellness Month, to focus on social and emotional well being and safety.
Why is the district unable to comment on media & social media stories related to student discipline?
All of our students are protected by the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). This federal law gives parents specific protections related to their children’s educational records. These records include, but are not limited to, report cards, transcripts, disciplinary records, and special educational needs.
This federal protection, at the school level, protects all students – even those accused of violating the student code of conduct. When a student is disciplined at school, those records are protected by FERPA. The district is unable to comment or share disciplinary action with other parents, the media, or on social media. There are many times that discipline is administered, but we are unable to share this information . . . even with the victim and/or the victim’s parents. This is often difficult to explain, and more difficult to “take” as parents.
When school violations reach the criminal level, and the police become involved, law enforcement may be able to share additional information. Criminal action is held to a different standard than educational records. The Hilliard City Schools are proud of our partnership with the Hilliard Police Department. We are blessed in our community to have dedicated, skilled law enforcement officers protecting our schools and families. We all work together to keep all of our students safe.
What was taken into consideration when moving classes, and creating classes, at the Innovative Learning Center and the Innovative Learning Hub?
Our innovative learning campus provides great opportunities for the Hilliard City Schools. First of all, both the ILC and Innovative Learning Hub (ILH) offer innovative and unique programs. The five networks housed at the Innovative Learning Campus provide opportunities for college credits, courses to tap into student interests, and online options to meet a student’s social and emotional needs,
The Innovative Learning Campus also gives the district an opportunity to maximize efficiency to better manage district resources. With three high schools and three middle schools, some courses are not efficiently offered at all six locations. For example, German is a foreign language that is difficult to offer to eighth grade students at all three middle schools and all high schools. For the 2018-19 school year, we are moving all German classes to the ILH. By offering these courses, with two teachers, at a single location we can include eighth grade students in the language track and still meet the needs of the existing German students. This is a win for taxpayers and a win for German students.
Our ILC and ILH are an extension of our home middle and high schools. While we considered the elimination of German several years ago, the proliferation of student experiences at the Innovative Learning Campus gives us the opportunity to manage costs and still offer this language opportunity.
As we continue to expand offerings, and create new classes, we must also evaluate traditional courses and make financially prudent decisions. As we add the new courses to prepare our students for future success, some changes must be made to manage costs. The Innovative Learning Campus increases efficiency and protects effectiveness.
Why did the district make changes to the 2018-19 Calendar?
The Hilliard City School District Board of Education recently adopted changes to the 2018-19 school year, as well as the calendars for the 2019-20 and 2020-21 school years. These calendars all incorporate the addition of one additional teacher/staff workday prior to the official start of the student year.
Over the past several years the Ohio General Assembly has enacted laws that require specific safety and health training for all school officials. Our district is proud to partner with both the Hilliard Police Department and the Norwich Township Fire Department to train and prepare our staff for emergency situations. Our district’s Joint Safety Task Force meets on a regular basis and plans district training activities.
The changes to the calendar will provide time for additional training, specifically planned and provided by our first responders, so that we can be prepared for emergency situations. Our hope is that we will never need to implement the training we receive; our goal is to be prepared and ready to respond if needed.
As you may know, our District is building a new middle school near Bradley High School, which will replace the current Memorial Middle School in 2018. The current Station Sixth Grade School will move into the current Memorial, and the Innovative Learning Center will expand programming and open The Hub in what is currently Station.
It is with excitement that I share I have asked Mr. Craig Vroom to become the Principal for the new Innovative Learning Hub beginning in the 2018/19 school year. Mr. Vroom is a highly successful elementary and middle school principal. He is a statewide leader in digital and networking collaboration and was recognized as Ohio Middle Level Principal of the year in 2016. His innovative approach, track record of success in Hilliard, and ability to create connections will be invaluable as we expand the ILC campus.
I am also excited to announce I have asked Mr. Chad Schulte to take over as Principal of Weaver Middle School beginning next year. Mr. Schulte has spent the past five years serving as a Darby High School Assistant Principal. Prior to this role he was Athletic Director at Darby for four years.
Mr. Schulte lives in the Weaver attendance area with his wife and children who will attend Weaver in just a few years. He is happy to get the opportunity to serve the community he calls home.
Our district will continue to seek opportunities for innovation. Expanding our Innovative Learning Center is just one way we will be able to prepare our students to be Ready for Tomorrow. In the next month, we will be sharing more plans and programs that will be housed at the Hub. There is no finish line – we are on a journey. We will continue to lead, not follow, in the area of instruction and innovation.
We are very excited to introduce Naviance and Family Connections to our middle level communities. Naviance is a comprehensive K-12 college and career readiness tool that will assist us as we continue to personalize each student’s educational journey. Naviance provides opportunities for students to explore their areas of interest and connect learning to life. We know that middle level education is a critical time for self-discovery, developing confidence and understanding why their education is relevant to their future goals. Read More
Hilliard City Schools has been working toward improving gifted identification and gifted services based on the 2016 recommendations of the Gifted Task Force. This year, we are implementing a variety of whole-grade assessments to equitably identify gifted students across our district demographic groups. For more information about how Hilliard City Schools identifies gifted students, please visit the Gifted Services page of our district website. Read More