Work is progressing on the new Van Wert Elementary School as shown above. The floors are expected to be poured the first week of August. (Times Bulletin/Kirk Dougal)
Work is progressing on the new Van Wert Elementary School as shown above. The floors are expected to be poured the first week of August. (Times Bulletin/Kirk Dougal)
VAN WERT - The Van Wert Board of Education approved a plan on Thursday that would make it easier for the school and students to make up for excessive calamity days.

Students and teachers all love having a fog or snow day during the school year but hate needing to make up extra days by attending school on scheduled holidays or after the end of the school calendar. Van Wert City Schools Technology Director John Butler explained to the board the system he has set up to allow the first three missed excessive days - the sixth, seventh and eighth missed days - to be made up by online assignments. Butler briefly described how teachers will create an assignment for each day per class after an excessive day is missed. Students will then be able to sign in to the same area where they can view their grades and the assignment will be available to them. The students will have two weeks to complete the assignment, in accordance with state regulations. If the student does not have home Internet access, they will be given the assignment on paper.

Butler said teachers may be as creative with the assignments as they wish, perhaps making them interactive with each other or more technologically-based than normal. Once a student has viewed the assignment, the teacher will be able to see a red box beside their name in the system so they can track who is doing the work and who is not. 

The board asked how the teachers would be able to monitor if there was any cheating going on since anyone could sign in under the student's user name and password. Butler said that solution would be up to the individual teachers but they could not take a grade directly from the assignment but instead tie it to in-class learning, as an example. 

The board approved the plan which will now be sent to the Ohio Department of Education along with a letter from the teachers' union and the board's approval.

Butler also gave an update on the technology report. The school pipeline has been upgraded from 20 MB per second to 50 MB, a vast improvement over just a few years ago when the speed was only 4 MB. The department is still in the process of replacing nearly 200 elementary desktop computers but they will be up and ready for students on opening day. Channel 6 programming will be streamed online this fall for area residents who do not have Time Warner cable. Finally, the school will be accepting VISA and Mastercard payments by E-Z Pay, however, the agreement was just recently signed so details will be forthcoming at a later meeting.

Treasurer Mike Ruen said the H.B. 264 energy saving project is progressing. In fact, one pleasant surprise had already occurred. AEP gives rebates for the old lighting systems turned in and the school had been expecting about $20,000-$22,000. Instead, AEP paid the school $36,109. The money will be placed into the permanent improvement fund as required.

Superintendent Ken Amstutz reported that the elementary school project is nearly at the above-ground stage of construction. He anticipated the floors will be poured in the first week of August with walls going up soon after that, making it easier for people to be able to see the progress. At Jefferson Elementary, the geothermal portion of the project would have been completed except the controlling box which was shipped to the site was not correct so the contractor is waiting on the new piece of equipment. At the new elementary, about one-third of the geothermal wells are in place. Amstutz said the renovations being completed to the High School and Middle School entrances should be done by August 12. 

Looking at other ongoing projects, contractors are being interviewed for the tennis court construction. The project has changed considerably and is expected to cost between $225,000 to $250,000 which will be paid by the outside group. Finally, Amstutz said he had been approached by an outside group about purchasing the Franklin School building, much like the Horace Mann building had been sold several years ago to a local church, rather than demolishing the structure. No action was required at this time but he wanted to the board to begin thinking about what they wanted to do with the property.

Amstutz gave a report on the ongoing process of creating a New Tech High School with VWCS. Members of the administration and teachers are planning visits to other schools that are already using the program. He said that many of the schools he has spoken with are seeing around 25 percent of their students using the New Tech concept. He acknowledged the teaching is very different from what is currently being used but it has been a tremendous success at other districts. (To read more about the New Tech concept, please refer to the Times Bulletin article in the June 30 edition or go online to this article.)

"Kids who struggle to learn in the typical 'butts in the seats' programs, blossom and flourish in (the New Tech) type of setting," he said. "It's project-based learning. They are out of their seats, they are working on a variety of things - therefore, I think it is a great opportunity for our school district to put in something a little bit different than what we are doing, not only here, but in all of Northwest Ohio we will be the only school district with a New Tech High School. Once again it is an opportunity for us to shine on the many great things that are happing in the Van Wert school system."