Photo: Senior/junior high principal Mike Roades, left, and new Bright Local Superintendent Ted Downing are pictured this week at Whiteoak High School in Mowrystown.
By Jeff Gilliland – [email protected]
Former programs have been reinstated, new policies are in place and the Bright Local School District is alive and well, new superintendent Ted Downing said this week.
Three of the biggest moves the Bright Local board of education made over the summer, he said, were to reinstate the elementary music program that was eliminated a year ago, eliminate “play-to-participate” fees, and help open up communication lines with the community.
“I think there’s a lot of positive things going on in the district and we have to do a good job of selling them,” said Downing, a Waverly native who most recently spent six years as superintendent of the Bridgeport School District in eastern Ohio. Before that he was a high school principal in the Eastern Brown School District from 1991 to 2009, and prior to that spent 1974 to 1991 in the Greenfield School District.
Next on the list of things to do, Downing said, are to improve the district’s test scores, revamp the cafeterias, and explore busing options.
“There’s a lot of good people here and a lot of good things going on and hopefully we can continue to move forward,” Downing said. “We’re going to try to fix a lot of things that over time have gotten to the point where they need attention. The only thing I can promise is that I’ll give them 110 percent of my time and attention to get the job done.”
The top priority, Downing said, is improving the district’s standardized test scores, which for years have lagged behind the other school districts in Highland County.
“I know the district already has some plans in place, but it will take some time,” Downing said.
Part of that plan is opening up communication lines between the school district and the community. Downing said each building will have its own advisory committee made up of people from the schools, area businesses, and the community. He plans to participate in each one.
“One person can’t change a district. It takes a team and we all need to get on the same page with our goals and do what’s best for the kids in this school district,” Downing said.
He said the school board has already stepped up by brining back an elementary music teacher, reinstating the elementary music program, and eliminating the pay-to-participate fee of $25 per student per event.
“It’s not how much, but just the fact that the board is trying,” Downing said.
The school district conducted a survey last spring and Downing said the three biggest areas of concern were music, communication and the cafeterias.
In response to that, the district hired Debbie Robertson, a longtime assistant treasurer and administrative secretary, as a full-time cafeteria supervisor.
“The first couple months of school we’ll be revamping what goes on in the cafeteria,” Downing said. “A whole bunch of things will occur and will be implemented as we go. The goal is to make sure the kids have a lunch they want, and yet meets all the standards we have to meet.”
Mike Roades, entering his fifth year as junior/senior high principal at Whiteoak, said that while the goal is to improve communication with the community, there will be chain of command to follow.
“Basically, we just want to keep the public informed about things going on here and at the state level, and to offer them the chance to give some positive feedback about things they’d like to see implemented,” Roades said. “That doesn’t mean we can do everything because there are costs and regulations that some people may not understand, but if it’s feasible, we’ll try to implement it.”
The chain of command, both administrators said, starts with an individual teacher, then goes to the building principal, then the superintendent, and lastly the school board.
More communication between the administration and coaches is another goal. Roades said there will be mandatory coaches’ meetings each season. Downing said a policy will be implemented prohibiting parents from talking to coaches the same day as a contest. He said waiting until the next day will give both sides a chance “cool off.”
Downing said the district is working on implementing a new safety plan. He said students are now allowed 16 unexcused absences per year, rather the prior four per grading period, and that if a student is suspended from school, he or she can receive up to 60 percent credit for work made up. Formerly, suspended students received a zero for all work they missed. The superintendent said suspended students will also be allowed to make up exams, and that there is also a new Saturday school program.
Downing said discipline is going to be a priority.
Lunch prices have risen by 5 cents per day, which Downing said was required by state law. High school lunches are now $2.25, elementary $2 and breakfast 75 cents.
Roades said the district has added an all-day, every day high school art teacher because art is now part of the graduation requirement.
The district has a new athletic director/history teacher in John Combs, a 2005 Whiteoak graduate.
Roades said the board has approved a new textbook rotation, and Downing said he wants more technology in both the high school and middle school.
Downing said the district’s busing situation is another area of concern. He said that as spread out as the district is, it’s tough to fix, but a few routes were adjusted and he plans to
continue to look at other ways busing can be improved, including replacing some of the older buses.
“I want to point out that all this would not be possible without the support of the school board,” Downing said.
The 2015-16 school year, which starts Wednesday for Bright Local students, will mark Downing’s 42nd in education.
“I really don’t have any hobbies. As long as I have my health, I really enjoy helping kids. I come from a kind of dysfunctional family and there were a lot of teachers and other people who helped me along the way,” Downing said. “As long as I can continue to do that, I see myself working for quite a while.
“I just enjoy what I do and I appreciate the board giving me an opportunity to become part of the Wildcat family and hope we have many successful years together.”
Reach Jeff Gilliland at 937-402-2522 or on Twitter @13gillilandj.