Adams County school districts facing some major challenges for the coming year

West Union High School Principal Roger Taylor in one of the new waiting areas reconfigured this summer for the three Adams County schools.

Superintendent urges parents to give their kids the ‘gift of school’ – 

Story and photo by Patricia Beech – 

Budget slashes, program cuts, lack of sufficient personnel, and cumbersome state-imposed regulations are the four big challenges facing administrators of Adams County’s two school districts during the coming 2017-18 school year.
Budget cuts rising from the Trump administration’s decision to trim back 11% of the national public school budget has stripped $250,000 from Ohio Valley Schools (OVSD) and $160,000 from Manchester Local (MLSD), a significant amount for rural schools in an impoverished area.
“We have to make it work with what we’ve got,” says Brian Rau, the new MLSD Superintendent. “It’s not going to be business as usual, but we still have to find a way to get the business done, we just have to find a creative way to do it.”
Rau’s attitude is both pragmatic and hopeful despite the extreme constraints being placed on the district’s administration and staff.
“You deal with the hand your dealt,” he says. “I have the utmost faith in our staff and administration, I have very high expectations for the students and the staff – just because we have less resources, our expectations won’t be lowered.”
Ohio’s new Truancy and Excessive Absence law – House Bill 410 – will further tax the stretched-thin time of administrators and staff in both districts, in addition to imposing stiff legal penalties on students who fall behind on their required number of classroom hours.
The new law requires schools to play a greater role in pursuing chronically absent students.
“This is a really big change for us,” says ACOVSD Superintendent Richard Seas. “It requires that our schools reach out to our students and their parents and make sure they’re coming to school. If they miss a certain number of hours we now have a defined process like we’ve never had before to address the issue of kids not coming to school.”
According to Seas, students who are missing excessively will be “run up the flag pole” if they miss too many hours, they may end up in the court system – after they’ve gone through an intervention process.
“Obviously we understand that everybody has situations beyond their control,” says Seas. “The simple fact is we cannot educate your children if they aren’t in school. We know if a kid graduates with a skill, or if they go on to college they have a good chance to get a good paying job, but any thing short of that – data shows a good job won’t be in their future. If parents believe in us and believe we can educate their kids, then they need to do their part and give their kids the gift of school.”
Habitual truancy and subsequent interventions, according to Rau, are “going to amount to a lot of work in every district” – many of whom lack funding for additional personnel.
Truancy is a big deal,” Rau says. “Kids have to be here, and it’s up to the districts to figure out how to do it.”
Rau and his administration also have to figure out how to fill still-vacant positions left by staff members who moved on to better and higher positions.
“We’ve got a lot of changes this year,”he says. “A lot of our previous staff and administration have moved on so there’s definitely going to be new faces this year.”
Rau says, despite the school’s personnel issues, there is a silver lining – an all-female administrative staff who he believes “will be positive role models who will encourage female students to aspire to be in leadership positions.”
Seas agrees the news isn’t all negative.
“On the positive side, renovations at our three high schools have created an even safer environment for our kids while they’re in the buildings.”
According to OVSD Facilities Manager Steve Wolfe, the three high school office areas have all undergone renovations to include a more comfortable public entry area, while at the same time increasing the safety of the students and staff. Visitors will enter the school through a new side door adjacent to the office area entrance. The new interior space features a waiting area where the school receptionist greets visitors from behind bullet proof glass. He, or she will buzz adult guests into the school, and accept dropped off items for students.
“Security wasn’t as much of a concern 20 years ago when our high schools were built,” said Wolfe. “We realize now there is a need to make them as safe as possible for our students.”
The renovations also allowed for much-needed updating of the schools’ office facilities, said West Union High School Principal Roger Taylor.
“We were able to add a couple of smaller offices and a conference room that previously was used for paper file storage,” said Mr. Taylor. “We no longer have as many paper files, so the office is now streamlined into a space suitable for 2017, as opposed to 1997.”
Parents and guardians from both districts will have the opportunity to visit the schools and their kids’ classrooms, in addition to meeting their teachers and bus drivers, during Back to School Night on Monday Aug. 21 from 4-7 p.m.
“There’s absolutely no better time for there to be an emphasis on education in our county than now with the onset of the power plants closing,” said Seas. “In Adams County, we’re better than we often define ourselves, and we’re better than the way others may want to define us – with education kids can make things happen, without it, they probably aren’t going to go anywhere. Our job is to provide opportunities for kids that can lead to a good job, which will lead to economic growth, so it’s time for education to come right to the forefront. We’ll help Adams County if the people in Adams County are willing to help themselves.”