Top 10 school stories from a wild year in education

Every year is a busy year in Ohio schools, and 2017 was no different, with state graduation rules changing, local taxpayers agreeing to fund new schools, multiple school leaders pushed out, and the Class of 2017 going out into the world.

Here’s a look at some of the top PreK-high school stories of the year:

Graduation changes twice

For more than a decade, Ohio high school students have received diplomas by earning 20 course credits and passing the Ohio Graduation Test. But that changed for this year's seniors, as the OGT was replaced with three new test paths to graduation.

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But in June, facing worries that graduation rates would drop, the state legislature changed the system again, offering current high school seniors several non-test-based options. Now students can graduate with a combination of good attendance, good grades, community service hours or independent projects.

There has been disagreement going back more than a year, some have said a more flexible system is needed, given all the testing turmoil current seniors went through, while others suggest the state is not demanding a high enough standard.

Is preschool the answer?

Dayton and Kettering are offering broadly expanded preschool access, in an effort to improve long-term academic performance, especially among low-income students.

After Dayton voters approved an income tax hike, the Preschool Promise program expanded dramatically this fall, offering tuition assistance to draw more families and providing teacher training to improve the quality of local schools.

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Teacher contract conflicts

Roughly half of the school districts in the Dayton area were bargaining new contracts with their teachers this year, and while a few of those negotiations stretched into the summer, Dayton was the flash-point.

A negotiation process that started in January for Dayton Public Schools eventually stalled, leading to packed school board meetings, public rallies, and a strike threat that came 24 hours from reality. The fallout included a teacher vote of no confidence against the superintendent and school board. Months later, that superintendent is on paid leave, and the school board is getting four new faces.

Bethel Local Schools in Miami County is the only district where teachers are still working under the terms of their expired contract. In most districts, new deals included raises and perks that had been frozen during the recession.

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High achieving schools

Local schools won a wide variety of awards in 2017. Oakwood High School earned the highest performance index on 2016-17 state tests of any high school in the state.

Waynesville Elementary School was one of nine schools in Ohio recognized as a National Blue Ribbon School, and Trotwood's Madison Park elementary was one of nine schools in Ohio called a High Progress School of Honor.

Miamisburg and Northmont won their second straight state Momentum Awards for getting straight A's on student growth measures. Springboro, Brookville and Archdiocesan Catholic schools were named to the Advanced Placement Honor Roll for increasing participation and performance on high-level AP courses.

Building new schools

More than a half-dozen school districts asked voters to help pay for new school buildings this year. Residents in Xenia, Valley View, Troy and Preble Shawnee said no, but four others said yes to projects that will change the face of their schools, with the help of state funding.

The Miami Valley Career Technology Center's bond issue/tax levy will pay for most of a $158 million renovation and expansion to improve safety and technology, and allow the Clayton campus to prepare more students for careers.

In traditional school districts, Waynesville will replace an old elementary school and build a new community center, while Carlisle will replace all existing schools with a new all-in-one PreK-12 building. Greenon will do the same.

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Sex charges for staff

There was a run of sex-related cases against school staff in 2017. Former Miamisburg teacher Jessica Langford and Kettering substitute teacher Madeline Marx face sexual battery charges for alleged sexual interaction with students.

Former Dayton teacher's aide and coach Donte Murphy was sentenced to five years' probation for having sex with a Ponitz Career Tech student. Another Dayton teacher, John Findley of Stivers, has been indicted on felony charges of pandering obscenity involving a minor.

And in Logan County, Indian Lake Superintendent Patrick O'Donnell faces charges that include rape of a child under 13 who was not a student in his district.

Anti-testing momentum

In addition to the state's graduation changes, there was a broad sense in 2017 that the pendulum had swung too far toward a focus on tests. In June, the state legislature eliminated the fourth- and sixth-grade social studies exams.

Now the state school board has recommended eliminating the high school English 1 test and the career tech WorkKeys exam. And the board wants to end required classroom-specific tests tied to the state's teacher evaluation system.

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Dayton has wild year

It would be hard to fit more into a school year than Dayton Public Schools did in 2017. In the winter, they won $10 million in state grants, planned the launch of an online school, extended Superintendent Rhonda Corr's contract three years and had repeated dysfunction at board meetings.

The spring brought two sex abuse issues, an unprecedented state athletic probation for rigging a football game, teachers protesting stalled negotiations, and the joy of high school graduations.

Summer was not quiet, as the district tried to solve its long-running busing woes, dramatically changed the start times of its schools, fought over firing or hiring coaches tied to the Dunbar sports program and closed a school after ignoring a hole in the roof for 14 years.

The first 10 days of August were loaded with concerns that teachers would go on strike. That didn't happen, but almost immediately after, there were issues with what GPA athletes should need to be eligible, the district's second-from-last ranking on state test scores, and a crowded school board election race.

In the final two months of the year, four new school board members were elected, Corr was put on leave due to multiple allegations but fought back, and the district announced it might close multiple schools next year.

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Some schools struggle

Trotwood-Madison schools ranked last of Ohio's 608 school districts in performance index, which is the most detailed measure of state test performance. Trotwood must improve its test scores this year, or it will face takeover by a state Academic Distress Commission.

Dayton Public Schools was second-last in the state in performance index, and saw last year's "A" in student growth fall to a "D." Jefferson Twp. schools ranked last in the state in four-year graduation rate for the Class of 2016, at 50 percent. No other district in Ohio was below 65 percent.

Class of 2017 wraps up

Miami Valley high schools honored their top students as valedictorians and salutatorians — high-achieving students headed to local schools like Wright State and Ohio State, and distant universities such as Columbia and Cal-Berkeley.

This next class taking flight included students like Lebanon's Patrick Dillon, a two-sport varsity athlete headed to the U.S. Air Force Academy to study aerospace engineering, and Noelle Townsend, Fairborn's class historian, athlete and volunteer headed to Notre Dame to study neuroscience and behavior.

Honorable mention

Local schools among state's first Purple Star winners for serving military families

State claws back millions from ECOT online school, citing overstated enrollment

Some schools close, some celebrate as rare solar eclipse hits Dayton area

State tries to plan next steps under ESSA federal education law

Schools turn to behavior issues as key to student achievement

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