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Fort Frye field trip provides future possibilities

The process, now two years along, of evaluating Fort Frye Local Schools facilities and recommending actions is headed toward a conclusion.

In November, the committee in charge of gathering information and making recommendations about what the district might do to meet the needs of future students will hold public meetings to offer its findings and gather response from district residents.

As part of the effort to determine what Fort Frye’s schools might look like in the future, the district sent an administrator, a teacher and three students on a field trip to examine two schools that might give them some ideas. The group visited West Liberty-Salem School, which lies about halfway between Bellefontaine and Urbana, and Reynoldsburg High School in a suburb east of Columbus.

“It was a long bus ride but we got a lot out of it,” said Fort Frye High School assistant principal Rachel Tullius. Also on the trip were English Language Arts teacher Abby Baker, freshman Rheagan Rector and eighth graders Phinn Spindler and Ethan Zwick.

Tullius said the West Liberty-Salem school was chosen as an example of a full K-12 school.

“We wanted to see the collaboration between grade levels, and the teen-teaching type of learning for younger kids, whether it was set up in a way to make that easier,” Tullius said.

Spindler said the security measures at the school impressed him.

“They really have a focus on safety – locks on the doors, windows that open so you can escape from classrooms, the ability to lock the whole school down,” he said. “I’m not that concerned about it here, at Fort Frye, but I felt like that was the main aspect that was noticeably different.”

The district, which enrolls about 1,150 students, underwent a major building project over the past three years which included a new science wing, new kindergarten and first grade classrooms and a new cafeteria. In January 2017, the school was shocked when a 17-year-old student smuggled a shotgun into the building and seriously injured another student.

Zwick said the layout and atmosphere of the building were favorable.

“I think it would help out, to have younger kids taught by older kids, and that school was really organized well, there was easy access to different parts of the building but it still seemed secure and quiet,” he said. “There weren’t any distractions.”

“I was really impressed with how quiet it was,” Rector said. “They made good use of the spaces, it was quiet and safe. It was definitely worth the trip to see that.”

Tullius said the floors in the school are rubberized and sound-absorbent, unlike those at Fort Frye.

“Some of our buildings are open concept, you can hear the teacher in the next room, and with our floors you can hear a lot of noise from the hallway,” she said. “It was very interesting not to hear that. I think our kids have just gotten used to the noise.”

“For the pre-K to grade 12 campus, you wonder how that works, but in the building they have different wings, each of them felt like a separate school,” she said. “It was really eye-opening to be able to see one.”

The group was scheduled to report to the district master planning committee Wednesday night.

Superintendent Stephanie Starcher said the field trip is part of the district’s continuing effort to shape its future.

“We’ve been into this process for a couple of years, the educational visioning, the future of learning for our kids, what skills and knowledge we want our graduates to possess, and what environment works best to achieve that,” she said. “What sort of learning spaces we want, spaces for creating, for making things, security, problem solving, communication, whether we want to have students at all grade levels on one site.”

In the next phase, Starcher said, the facilities are assessed in terms of what would need to be done to maintain the current structure of the district – which has three elementary schools and a combined middle school and high school.

The district’s master committee for the project will take its report and present it to the community for feedback at three meetings in November, she said.

“The master planning team will take it to the people and say, ‘Here’s what we’re thinking’ and ask for response,” she said.

The meetings, all starting at 6 p.m., will be held Nov. 19 at Salem-Liberty Elementary School, Nov. 21 in the auditorium at Fort Frye High School in Beverly and Nov 25 at Lowell Elementary School. The district also has a dedicated email line – facilityfeedback@fortfrye.org – for anyone to express concerns or make suggestions.

“Our goal is to have recommendations to bring to the board (of education) by March 2020,” Starcher said. “We’ve studied everything from busing and enrollment to infrastructure and financing options, we’ll know whether we can afford a loan, what the impact on taxpayers would be, what state money we qualify for, we’ve been very purposeful, communicating and updating as we go along.”

Starcher said the master planning team will meet in December to analyze public input and decide whether further meetings are needed.

Michael Kelly can be contacted at mkelly@mariettatimes.com.

Fort Frye Local Schools facility planning process

• Began two years ago.

• Review of all current facilities.

• Public visioning sessions held in February.

• Committee to hold public meetings with recommendations:

• Salem-Liberty Elementary School, 6 p.m. Nov. 19.

• Fort Frye High School auditorium, 6 p.m. Nov. 21.

• Lowell Elementary School, 6 p.m. Nov. 25.

• Final recommendations expected in March 2020.

Source: Fort Frye Local Schools.

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