Aurora -- Although local school leaders spend a great deal of time refreshing the curriculum and providing professional development for teachers, an enormous amount of time now is spent on safety issues, Superintendent Russ Bennett said.

"It saddens me how times are changing," Bennett said in the wake of the school shootings in Connecticut.

He said School Resource Officer Michelle Ice conducts training for the staff and students, helps evaluate and make changes to safety protocols, and constantly evaluates the schools' present physical structures from a safety standpoint.

"We're evaluating a host of additional security measures that would continue to ensure our students and staff are safe," Bennett said.

As 2013 begins to unfold, Bennett is looking ahead to other goals and projects in the district.

Bennett said school officials are working with teachers to develop a new teacher evaluation system.

"We're implementing new courses of study and assessments in our core subjects, as well," he said. "We're enhancing our intervention strategies for struggling students and making our regular curriculum more robust for students along the entire spectrum.

"As a 'Race to the Top' district, we have been told that our regular curricular teaching practices are far superior to many other districts."

In the federally funded Race to the Top, school districts seek funds for locally developed plans that will personalize learning, directly improve student achievement and educator effectiveness, close achievement gaps, and prepare every student for success in college and careers.

"This speaks well of our academic programming, as we can boast about our top state rating," Bennett said, adding in 2012, the Aurora schools ranked 17th academically out of Ohio's 613 school districts.

REGARDING hopes and goals for 2013, Bennett said, "We're focused on insuring our student success, as all districts are preparing for new curricular and testing changes to occur in 2014. These new testing practices and evaluations are planned to be much more rigorous than what exists now."

"Tests will be administered through the computer, which means we are working to insure our network and amount of technology is sufficient to complete tests on time and appropriately," Bennett said.

With a 5.9-mill school levy approved last November, Bennett believes the schools will operate more smoothly in 2013 and beyond. The levy will bring about $3.6 million into the district's coffers annually. It will cost the owner of a property valued at $100,000 about $181 a year.

"We're grateful to the community for passing the levy and putting us on solid financial ground," Bennett said. "We're looking with great interest to see what Gov. Kasich will do with his new budget and what his new school funding formula will do to schools. We're hopeful he doesn't take any more dollars away from schools as he did in his last budget."

The schools' energy savings program, which began in 2012, will provide more savings in 2013 and in years to follow, Bennett said.

Bennett noted projections indicate the schools will save about $1.9 million over a 10-year period.

"Our first look at our energy savings shows we are on or ahead of pace," Bennett said. "We know the first few years, we'll have more savings than in the final years [of the next decade] as we make a lot of changes to our procedures. The best part of the program is that our savings are guaranteed, so the program actually does not cost the district money."


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