LEWIS CENTER, OH (WCMH) — Students in Olentangy Local Schools could see big changes starting in 2018, as the district shuffles students around to deal with overcrowding.
Construction has already begun at the future Olentangy Berlin High School, soon to be the district’s fourth high school. All in all, about 2,100 students across all grade levels will be affected by redistricting that’s set to begin in the fall of 2018.
“We know growth isn’t going to stop. It’s just a matter of how fast it happens,” said Mark Raiff, superintendent of Olentangy Local Schools.
Raiff said all three current high schools are “significantly overcrowded.” The fourth high school will be funded by bond money from a ballot issue passed by voters in 2015.
“There’s no perfect solution that’s going to, quite simply, make everybody happy,” Raiff said. “And that’s difficult, and I understand change is difficult. 11:46:01
While Raiff said there hasn’t been a lot of pushback over the decision, some families are concerned.
Jan Norfolk has two grandchildren, ages five and ten, who go to school in the district and will be affected.
“They’re very concerned about it,” Norfolk said. “We’ve been praying about it for a couple of months.”
She said her son and daughter-in-law were concerned about the uncertainty and change in school philosophy.
“They’re worried about their property values going down, they’re worried about the adjustment and they really don’t want to be redistricted,” Norfolk said.
The district said this plan is what is best to accommodate a growing school population and maintain the high standards of Olentangy Local Schools.
“They’re going to go to an excellent school, have an excellent academic program, high-quality teachers and adults who truly care about their children,” Raiff said.
Raiff noted that a small group of current freshmen at Olentangy Orange and Olentangy Liberty High Schools would have the choice of staying in their current schools for their junior and senior years when the changes go into effect. However, about 300 current freshman students at Olentangy High School who will be moving to Olentangy Berlin High School will not have that option, Raiff said, and will have to move as planned.
Raiff noted that the district has grown from fewer than 3,000 students in a single building in 1990 to nearly 21,000 students across approximately 24 buildings, as the population in the 92-square-mile district continues to grow.
He said he understood why some parents might be upset about the changes and how they could affect their individual children and families.
“I’m responsible for making a very large, macro-level decision that has to be in the best interest of our whole school district,” Raiff said.
The news of redistricting is welcome to other people. Josh Van Dop’s family is planning to move from Westerville into the Olentangy Local Schools district.
“School districts are a big concern for us since we have three kids and we’re looking at Olentangy, they have a good reputation,” Van Dop said. “We’ve talked to a lot of teachers there. We were concerned about some of the overcrowding, but with the new plan they have for 2018, it looks like they’re going to spread it out a little more.”
Van Dop’s realtor, Justin Dill, said some Olentangy families might decide to move because of the redistricting.
The superintendent said he understands some people might choose that route.
“Some people won’t want to change schools and they’ll change their residence,” Raiff said. “And if that’s the choice they make, that’s the choice they make.”
The district said it plans to hire the principal for the new high school in early April and the athletic director in May. Then, the process of staffing the new school will begin.
The full plans for redistricting are posted on the Olentangy Local Schools website.