Heather Hendrix

Ontario Recreation Director Heather Hendrix addresses the Ontario Local Schools board of education.

ONTARIO -- Ontario students exceeded the state averages during the pandemic based on the district's most recent standardized test results, according to Assistant Superintendent Mike Ream.

He told the board Tuesday night to take standardized test scores with a grain of salt.

“It’s always just one measure taken at one moment during the year," Ream explained.

Overall, standardized test scores were down across the state of Ohio during the pandemic. Ontario’s passage percentages were also down from 2019, but Ontario students outperformed the state average for the year.

“Our students were, on average, 15 percentage points above the state,” Ream said.

Data from Ontario's standardized test scores and a survey about homework.

Ontario was the only school in Richland County where students met the “expected growth” standards for every standardized test last school year. Ream said it's some of the best growth data the district has ever had.

Ream added Ontario has the lowest weighted spending per pupil in the county. Weighted spending essentially takes into account how much extra funding a district receives for each student with a disability or other challenges.

“The weighted amount basically eliminates the arguments of 'who has higher student needs' to give a more equal comparison of spending per pupil,” Ream wrote in his report.

“The results we get for the money we spend is pretty impressive.”

Lastly, Ream reviewed the results of a homework survey that had been sent to teachers and parents of elementary and middle school students.

He said the purpose of the study was to ensure that students have a healthy balance of academics and family life.

“We are not looking to make sweeping changes,” he said. “We’re not looking to be a district that says ‘no more homework altogether.’”

“We want to protect our high level of expectations, but do so in a a way that does not over focus on homework,” he added in the report.

Most parents felt that there is a good balance of homework and family time in the elementary school.

More than 40 percent of parents of sixth and seventh graders said they felt homework was having a negative impact on family time. Less than a quarter of eighth grade parents felt the same way.

Board passes substitute teacher resolution

The board also approved a resolution that allows the district to hire licensed substitute teachers with a minimum of a high school diploma.

Substitute teachers in Ohio are typically required to hold a bachelor’s degree. The state legislature temporarily waived that requirement during the 2021-2022 school year through Senate Bill 1, which went into effect Oct. 28.

Prospective substitute teachers will still have to pass a background check and obtain a temporary substitute teaching license from the Ohio Department of Education. They will also be required to meet with district administrators prior to being added to the substitute list.

Superintendent Lisa Carmichael said the district has had unfilled vacancies on 95 school days since the start of the school year. There have been 74 instances of unfilled substitute positions at Stingel, 12 at the middle school and nine at the high school.

When a substitute can’t be secured, a school may cancel a course for that day, combine classrooms or fill the position with an intervention specialist, specials teacher or administrator.

Ream said COVID-19 has exacerbated staffing trends in education. Older retired teachers and licensed substitute teachers may be less willing to go into the schools due to health concerns. But there were also fewer people going into the education field prior to the pandemic.

Senior Citizen Prom a smashing success

Principal Keith Strickler and Ontario Recreation Director Heather Hendrix briefed the board on the senior citizen prom held at the middle school last month.

Strickler described the senior prom as a “home run.” Student volunteers worked as waiters and photographers during the event.

After the students finished serving drinks and snacks, Strickler asked each middle school volunteer to spend at least five minutes at a table chatting with the senior citizens.

One boy told a group of senior citizens that he didn’t know how to dance, so one of the women took him to the floor and taught him.

By the end of the night, the students were on the floor with the senior citizens, learning basic ballroom steps and doing conga lines.

The night ended with an impromptu singalong of “America the Beautiful,” led by Joel Claypool of Just Jazz Live.

“This was a dynamic I was not planning on. I was wanting the kids to learn to serve. I did not expect this to turn into this cross-generational thing. They were just playing together and it was so much fun. “

“It turned into something so much greater.”

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Staff reporter focused on education and features. Clear Fork alumna. Always looking for a chance to practice my Spanish. You can reach me at katie@richlandsource.com