Thompson presents Piqua’s ‘State of the Schools’

PIQUA — Piqua City Schools Superintendent Dwayne Thompson addressed board members, teachers from UVCC and Edison State Community College and community members Wednesday morning during the Piqua State of the Schools Address at the Piqua High School.

Thompson covered three topics: school safety, the Success Bound Program and financial planning for the district.

The safety plan was due to the district earlier this year. The creation of the safety plan is led by Assistant Superintendent Tony Lyons and involves a building committee that includes parents and people throughout the community. The committee meets with police, fire and the emergency management agency and review templates from the state.

Piqua City Schools District participates in ALICE (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate) training to help staff and teachers prepare for potential dangerous situations. The district also has monitored cameras to hopefully spot potential dangers before a situation occurs. The schools also has officers on campus to be notified by those monitoring cameras.

The schools’ partnership with the Piqua Police Department has significantly increased including armed threat assessment officers in the buildings. Piqua Police also has access to the school’s cameras to view situations as they are happening and after the fact. The district also has a threat assessment team to determine if a threat to the school, whether it be by a student or an outside individual, is real and what level the threat would be considered so that the schools can act accordingly.

The district recently received round one safety grant funds of $50,000 for each building. The safety grant funds will be used for additional cameras, replacement cameras, safety gates for the parking lots and door alarms.

Mental health is also a big concern for the Piqua City Schools District. Statistics presented during the address show suicide and other mental health issues are current threats to the youth. To help students better their mental health the schools offer counselors, building cohorts, teachers and administrators who attend training and bring the information back to share with their fellow teachers how to address mental health issues. The schools also provide PBIS, positive behavior intervention system; ESL for English as Second Learners to help students from other cultures adjust to the schools; Link Crew helps eighth-graders move into the ninth-grade; zones of regulation to help student regulate and assess their emotions; Hope Squad, a group of students elected by students to help address suicide threats; bullying and safety reporting; and behavioral specialists. The district has also increased their partnership with Good Samaritan Mental Health.

The districts Success Bound Program works with students of all ages, primary, elementary, junior high and high school students, to prepare them for the transitions between schools and, in the long run, the transition to secondary education, the workforce and the military. The program started with the district looking at those systems and how to get students into those pathways. Another part of the Success Bound Program is the Business Advisory Council, which was one of the first in the state to receive a three-star rating. The council advises the schools on how to help students prepare for the workforce or secondary education.

Since March of 2020 Piqua Schools has struggled with attendance. After the schools closed in 2020, the district was able to reopen for the 2020/2021 school year with multiple restrictions and online services. The district ended online options in the 2021/22 school year. Despite a COVID-19 surge from November 2021 to February of 2022, the schools did not close.

“We did stay open both years. Not once did we close because of COVID and that is a true tribute to the staff even though it was very challenging for us,” said Thompson.

As a result of COVID, attendance became a serious issue. The school struggled to get students back to school and engaged in learning. Piqua hired an attendance support coordinator to communicate with parents to help get parents and students back on track and explain what it means to miss multiple days of school. Over the past couple of years, the district has decreased the number of students on attendance improvement plans and the number of charged of truancy filed.

One of the biggest challenges the district is facing is the early entrance into kindergarten. The KRAL, Ohio’skindergarten readiness assessment, shows what students have mastered from birth up to kindergarten. The assessment is given during the first few weeks of school to see if students are ready for learning in kindergarten environments. KRAL assesses social foundation, mathematics skills, language and literacy skills and physical and motor development. In 2020 over 40% demonstrated readiness, in 2021 it decreased to a little over 30% and this year it is at 25% of students that demonstrate readiness.

“It’s a great struggle for us right now to try to get students at this level of demonstration to come into kindergarten, to get them back on track and to get them up to grade level. It’s a struggle and you add to that the attendance issues and all of the COVID-related issues we’ve dealt with, it’s just made it that much more difficult,” said Thompson.

Professional development has been a major focus in the district, including a new state required special reading service for student that might have dyslexia. There are also academic coaches that work with elementary teachers to help them overcome these deficits.

Piqua uses the Ohio Improvement Process to help the district stay focused on helping students achieve the highest possible education. The OIP consists of a district leadership team (DLT) that involves representation from every building that sets goals for each building. The DLT meets with building leadership teams (BLT) to set goals, based on building data, that will have the most impact on their students. BLTs meet with teacher based teams to hear from teachers in each building on assessments and lessons and the information and goals work their way back to the DLT.

The district has been in construction mode for the past 10 years with the construction of new schools and more recently the renovations of the junior high and high schools. The main renovations include door and window replacements, new color schemes to match the new buildings, a new student union at the high school to give the building a feeling similar to that of a college campus and new classrooms. More renovations are set to take place during the summer of 2023 including renovations of the kitchen and gym floor at the high school, new turf and track painting in the stadium and playground equipment updates at all of the primary and intermediate schools.

Key factors for the district’s financial future include the end of ESSER funds, enrollment numbers, the Fair School Funding Plan, inflation, job market pressures, state legislation, safety initiatives that include an increased presence of police on campus and mental health needs of students, currently the school has six mental health counselors but with the current case load of students, the school really needs 10.