Just like us, you’re probably excited to see the walls of the new Powers Elementary School rise.
The building will open next August and preparations have already begun for migrating grades PK-3 to South Lake Street. Amherst educators are busy reviewing schedules, drafting day-to-day procedures for the new school, looking at start and end times, remapping bus routes, going over staffing needs, and planning for the demolition of the old Powers site on Washington Street.
But while the $32 million project is thrilling, this year is about more than just waiting for the Powers doors to open — there are big ideas in motion in 2018-2019.
“A lot of this year is about setting the stage for the long-term,” said district superintendent Steven Sayers. “It’s about asking where we want to go academically, what we want to do with our facilities, and what we want to do technologically.”
A big focus this year will be on emotional and mental health.
A full-time social worker has been hired to help Amherst students. Sayers said there are families struggling with problems, and students often suffer academically due to tough situations at home.
A counselor can help students work through grief, overcome addiction, cope with thoughts of self-harm, or escape domestic abuse. Teachers have been tasked with watching for danger signs and putting at-risk children in touch with trained professionals.
At the same time, there’s an effort underway to reduce the amount of administrative work handled by guidance counselors, so they can also spend more time with students.
Another area getting a lot of attention this year in Amherst is safety.
The Ohio Department of Homeland Security has offered to provide free security assessments to districts across the state. Following the February shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., the agency was swamped with requests.
Sayers and assistant superintendent Michael Molnar said they are open to what the experts have to say and will use the advice to close security loopholes here.
They also want to add a second Amherst police officer to patrol school grounds. Right now, the district pays for one uniformed officer but adding a second would vastly improve response times in an emergency.
On the academic side, technology is become more important to students every day.
The computer science field is exploding and employers increasingly needs workers with a deep understanding of coding, robotics, and tech development, Molnar said.
Last year, a family coding night event was held and there was a huge turnout. “I felt like it was a wake-up call,” Molnar said. “We heard parents saying this was an area that’s important to their kids and to careers.”
Teacher Amanda Sears launched a coding club last year and more than 100 kids signed up. This year, the district is looking to expand on the model.
Technology is also a focus of the new Amherst Junior High creative learning center, which replaced the school’s traditional library. It features a makerspace where kids can work with 3D printers and other gadgets.
In the past four years, the Amherst schools have invested a lot in technology, resources, teacher development, and curriculum, especially at Steele High — and Molnar said he expects those investments to pay dividends this year.
“I feel like we’ve laid the groundwork and foundation for going to the next level,” he said.
A great deal of effort in 2018-2019 will go toward helping kids who are falling through the gaps: those with learning disabilities, testing issues, or struggling with math and science scores.
“I just think it’s so important that our goal is to help students become well-rounded and to give them a good overall, high-quality education,” said Sayers. Teaching critical thinking skills, what it means to be a good citizen, giving back to your community, how to agree to disagree, and how to work collaboratively are all part of the equation.
“Obviously, academics are important – math, language arts, science. But also the arts come into play… When they graduate, (students) must be in a position to succeed, whether that means going to college, jumping into the military, going to the career center, the JVS, orgoing right into the work force,” he said. “We need to provide them the skills to help them do what they need to do.”
Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.