NANKIN — Mapleton Local Schools welcomed back students on Wednesday morning, making it the first district in the Ashland area to kick off the 2023-2024 academic year.
“It’s always an exciting time of the year,” said Scott Smith, Mapleton’s superintendent.
Middle school and high school students began their days with assemblies. The principals went over expectations and rules for the year before releasing students to classes.
The elementary school welcomed students with a chalk message in front of the building. Elementary students won’t have a back-to-school assembly until the beginning of September, according to the elementary school principal.
Parents and students will see a new math curriculum and new leadership on the board of education this year. The district will also ask voters to approve a levy in order to avoid a potential budget deficit this November.
Leadership and a levy
Mapleton’s superintendent, Smith, has been in his position since 2018. He, along with Shannon Lusk at Ashland County Community Academy, are the only area superintendents who won’t be starting their first full years in the position.
New superintendents are at the helm in Ashland County schools with Steve Paramore at Ashland City Schools; Cathy Trevathan at Hillsdale; and Jennifer Allerding in Loudonville-Perrysville. Allerding was superintendent at Galion last year.
Still, Mapleton will also see new leadership take over mid-year, with three members of its board of education up for election.
Long-term board member and current vice president Tom Donley will not run for re-election. Shawn Grundy, the board’s current president, will also not return.
The board swore in a new member in July to fill a vacancy left when its former vice president, Tim McKean, stepped down in June. Vincent Hartzler filled McKean’s position, but his seat will be up for re-election this fall.
Four people have filed to run for the three open seats, according to Ashland County’s Board of Elections director, Amanda Jones. That election will happen in November, with new board members taking office in January.
Mapleton Local Schools will also have a levy on November’s ballot. It will ask voters to approve a 0.75% income tax. Similar levies have failed in Mapleton twice — once by 32% in May 2022, and again by 16% this May.
Without the levy, Mapleton would see a budget deficit of $44,333 this year. That deficit could grow to nearly $484,000 by 2026 without the levy, according to school officials.
Smith said the district and board can’t advocate for or against the levy. They’re only allowed to ask for the funding. He said there is a committee working to help pass the levy, called the Time for Mapleton Levy Committee.
Skip Fulton began his third year as Mapleton’s curriculum director this fall. One of Mapleton’s ongoing changes over the last two years has been its curriculum.
“We’re taking a look at some of the disconnect we had with what our state test scores were telling us and what was happening in the classroom in terms of grades,” Fulton said. “In most districts, test scores tend to be lower than grades overall.”
He said Mapleton has been looking at the cause of that disconnect. One of the contributors to it, Fulton said, was a lack of consistency from grade level to grade level in terms of curriculum.
“We had teachers doing some really good things, but they were doing them in isolation,” Fulton said.
So, his goal over the last two years has been to build a curriculum that is consistent between grade levels.
This year, Mapleton will begin working with a new math curriculum. The curriculum is called Open Up Resources, and Fulton said it’s based on illustrative math.
“That math program is really designed to not only work on developing the basic math skills they need, but it’s designed to get kids thinking a little bit more critically and exploring the discussion and social aspects of math, and trying to apply it to real-world situations,” Fulton said.
He added the district is working to provide interventions for students who need extra support with math.
Last year, Mapleton also adopted a new English curriculum. It started using Amplify’s literacy curriculum for students in kindergarten through second grade, and for students in sixth through eighth grade. Fulton said the district purchased a curriculum focused on the science of reading.
The Ohio state legislature’s new biennial budget includes a sum of money that goes toward literacy improvement with specific provisions for curriculums focused on the science of reading. A total of $86 million will go toward professional development, $64 million toward instructional materials and another $18 million will be allocated to literacy coaches.
Fulton said along with the new curriculum, students who need extra help are all receiving interventions. That comes in the form of extra class periods in kindergarten through eighth grade and extra help in the classroom.
Fulton said after a year of using the new literacy curriculum, the district’s internal data shows “tremendous” growth.
“In some areas, we’ve seen more than double digit gains,” Fulton said.
Ohio’s Department of Education does not yet show data for the most recent school year. In 2021-2022, Mapleton’s English test scores showed fourth graders with the highest level of proficiency, with 75.9% of them testing at proficient or higher in English.
In middle school, 55.6% of sixth graders tested proficient or better in English. Less than 54% of seventh graders and less than 37% of eighth graders were proficient or better in English.
Fulton said it’s harder to find a literacy curriculum for high school students. But, the district is working on connecting lessons from grade level to grade level for high schoolers too. It will continue to use Amplify this year, expanding it to students in kindergarten all the way through eighth grade.
“The literacy at this point is now just keeping that momentum going, keeping improvements and tweaking as we go along the way,” Fulton said. “… Now we’ve put that emphasis on, ‘Let’s build that structure with the math just like we did with literacy.’”
Mapleton’s 2021-2022 math scores showed less than 40% of high schoolers at or above proficiency in Algebra I.
Fulton said the district purchased both the new math curriculum and the new literacy curriculum with COVID-19 relief money.
Fulton said while math and literacy have been focuses for him, the district has also done a lot in recent years with robotics, building up career tech classes and working on science and technology.
“I was impressed from the day I walked in, and still am, by the teachers and the things they do day-to-day with our kids,” Fulton said.
A roofing project for Mapleton’s middle school finished over the summer. Smith, the superintendent, said the project ran from June 1 to the end of July.
It was completed before students returned to the building on Wednesday.
Along with kicking off the school year, Mapleton also starts off its football season with a game against Loudonville on Aug. 18.
The board of education will have its next meeting on Sept. 18 at 4:30 p.m. in the high school/middle school media center.
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