(PHOTO) – Representing Fayette at the Straight-A Fund Grant event were Kelly Bentley-Treasurer, Kirk Keiser-Board President, Demi Powers, Erik Belcher-Superintendent, Michael Brubaker, Gene Rupp-Director of Virtual Academy, Mercedes Molina, Dr. Richard Ross-State Superintendent, Alexis Fruchey, Dylan Stannard, Collin McCabe, Becky Short-Technology Director and Lacy Stambaugh-Virtual School Instructor.
By: Timothy Kays / THE REPORTER
Although held in the Swanton High School Media Center, an event much bigger than the host community was on tap on this day. As the late morning minutes ticked away on December 17, representatives of a consortium of 16 Northwestern Ohio schools filtered into the Media Center, and shortly before 11:30, they were joined by the Superintendent of Public Instruction for the State of Ohio, Dr. Richard A. Ross, for an official presentation of a $3.4 million grant from the Ohio Straight-A Fund.
Mr. Jeff Schlade, the Superintendent of the Swanton Local School District welcomed all to the well attended event, which included representatives of the Fayette Local School District, as well as the Stryker Local, Wauseon Exempted Village, Edon Northwest Local, Evergreen Local, Pike-Delta-York Local, Archbold Local and Edgerton Local School districts, as well as the Four County Career Center and the host school district, Swanton. Amongst the attendees were Mr. David Schultz, Principal of the Stryker Schools, Mr. Larry Brown, Superintendent of the Wauseon Exempted Village School District, Mr. Keith Leatherman, Principal of Wauseon High School, Mr. Ed Ewers, Superintendent of the Edon Northwest School District, and Mr. Erik Belcher, Superintendent of the Fayette School District.
Mr. Schlade thanked several people for helping make the event possible, including Mr. Belcher and Mr. Gene Rupp, the Director of the Fayette Virtual Academy, who took the lead in building the consortium and guiding the grant application through its stringent approval process. “I’m sure you’d all agree that without their leadership and their general persistence and guiding hands throughout the whole process, we likely would not be sitting here today for such a distinguished event.”
Mr. Schlade then introduced Dr. Ross who, as a Fairview graduate and the former Superintendent of the Bryan School District, is more than familiar with the small school districts of Northwest Ohio, many of which are members of the consortium of sixteen. “What a great day to be back in Northwest Ohio,” Dr. Ross said upon stepping to the podium.
Dr. Ross called out each district of the consortium by name, noting that he is an advocate of districts working together as a singular entity to accomplish a greater good for their students. The consortium of sixteen will serve 14,000 students, but as Dr. Ross noted, “We had 24 Straight-A Fund Grant approvals, but those 24 grant proposals represented over 150 entities around the State of Ohio, and those 150 entities represented over 360,000 students. This one,” he continued, singling out the consortium of sixteen, “…is equally important, and maybe more because of the needs in this particular part of the state.”
Dr. Ross noted that he does not believe that the one-size-fits-all method of funding from the state and federal systems is successful, as it does not recognize the characteristics unique to each school district. He applauded the shared dream of ‘digital unity’ of the consortium, but said that he is expecting them to not remain content to keep their success amongst themselves, and challenged them to pass their keys to success on to other districts around the state.
Dr. Ross detailed the two-tiered process for vetting of the grant applications, the first being sustainability. With a minimum program running time of five years, 40 percent of the applications fell by the wayside as failing to meet the sustainability criteria. The second criterion was a peer review and approval process, which reduced the final selection pool down to only 45 applicants. Those 45 redacted applications were put to a final vote, reducing the final number to 24. Of the original 570 applications received, only 4.21 percent were approved for funding. “I’m here to tell you, I’m proud of you,” Dr. Ross told the consortium members; “I’m proud of those applications…and I’m looking forward to that being successful here.”
Dr. Ross then stepped down from the podium and presented a Straight A Fund Innovation Grant Winner banner to six students representing the Fayette School District, Demi Powers, Michael Brubaker, Mercedes Molina, Alexis Fruchey, Dylan Stannard and Collin McCabe. As they were joined by students representing other districts in the consortium of sixteen, Mr. Belcher stepped up to the podium. “I can’t say enough things about the leadership of our superintendents in Northwest Ohio that came together on this issue, and worked together on a common cause to promote…the 14,000 students that are served by this consortium,” Mr. Belcher said. “With that, we are turning a new page in what we are doing with education in out area.”
The Virtual Academy indeed turns a corner, one that not years, but just a few weeks ago would only be available to kids in much larger school districts. The Virtual Academy takes the curriculum of each district in the consortium, and expands it dramatically, offering over 600 additional courses that open up huge new frontiers, while fine-tuning existing curriculum to make students more advanced than their peers upon entering the colleges or universities of their choice. A music education at Julliard no longer needs to begin in the Lincoln Center in New York City, but can commence in a classroom far away from the bright lights in places like Fayette, Stryker, Edon or Wauseon, Ohio. In an ever shrinking world, students of the Virtual Academy can of course learn Spanish, but also Chinese, French, German, and even Latin. If non-verbal speech is a part of a potential career path, Sign Language I and II are available through the Academy, and these courses make up less than two percent of all that is offered in science, mathematics, humanities, technologies and more categories now available to students.
“$3.4 million coming into Northwestern Ohio,” said Mr. Belcher earlier; “…that’s good for the economy. That’s good for the people.” “We’re in the business of students,” he added this afternoon. Now with the partnership of the Virtual Academy, the Straight-A Fund Grant and the consortium of sixteen, ‘business’ is good and off to new heights, and the expanding horizons for 14,000 students served by the consortium has never been bigger, better or brighter.
Timothy Kays can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org