Looking to the future for the Warren County School District, in the wake of crippling budget cuts and staffing reductions over the last two years, can be challenging.
But with a master facilities plan that is coming to fruition after years of spirited debate, and increasing opportunities for students developing through technological innovation, there is reason to be optimistic looking to the future.
"The obvious factor that is going to play a part in the future is technology," Acting Superintendent Amy Stewart said. "And we've seen part of that." She explained that 10 years ago students were "all sitting in desks and chairs in our building. Technology broadens that." Cyber-school is the most direct example of that shift.
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"I think we'll see that continue," she added. Dual enrollment is also currently bringing college courses into district buildings, providing "more opportunities and experiences" for students.
Part of adapting for the future requires adjusting educational offerings to reflect the needs of the business community. Stewart said that the district currently "align(s) opportunities we provide to what the businesses need." To help facilitate that vision, the district, in conjunction with business entities from around the county, is in the process of seeking applicants for a new director of career and technical education who, in consultation with a new advisory council, can accurately meet that goal.
Looking to the future, Stewart identified three specific areas that will have the greatest impact on future educational offerings.
Leadership will be key. With the recent resignation of Superintendent Brandon Hufnagel, the district is looking for the next schools chief who will develop their own unique vision for the future. "That's an important decision that will help shape (the future)," said Stewart.
Another point of emphasis is flexibility.
"You can apply flexibility to a lot of areas," Stewart explained. "Buildings and classroom spaces need to be flexible." She said that the design of the elementary expansion at Eisenhower Middle High School takes this into consideration so that the district "is not locked into any sort of classroom where everyone is sitting in rows."
The district is currently very active in a series of renovations and additions that will bring educational facilities into a condition where they can adapt to changing technological and student needs in the future.
Beaty-Warren Middle School is under construction on a $16 million renovation. Eisenhower and Sheffield are next as the district seeks to utilize those facilities as K-12 entities. Looking past those projects, renovations at Warren Area High School "would be the next target," said Stewart.
"We continue to have to be flexible in our staffing," she added. "We need to be flexible in our delivery and access to programs. That would be increasing that menu for options for students."
But that increased menu of options will come at a cost.
Regarding funding, Stewart said "we have to focus on those positive things. We would like to offer every class that students are interested in."
But recent state cuts have left challenging budget realities.
"The poor, rural schools have probably taken more than their share of the hit," said Stewart, explaining that the district has taken a $700 to $800 hit per student over the last couple of years. That number makes the district one of the top 25 hardest hit districts in the state. "That's a big hit for a district our size."
Stewart said that state education funding "will outlive a tenure of a governor. If we were to continue on that path, (it) will continue to be a difficult situation."
But with a facilities plan underway, Stewart was optimistic that the community will be able to focus more on educational opportunities than building configuration moving ahead.
"We are in the process of executing a facilities plan that appears to be a compromise and we have a real significant need to put the facilities debate behind us and to really focus on instruction and educational programming so that we can be prepared when those changes come in the future.