Springfield High School: 15 years after North and South merger, leader looks ahead

Challenged by poverty, district struggles with state standards but offers top academic programs.

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

Springfield High School is marking 15 years since its been combined as one school, and district officials are looking to the future.

North and South high schools combined in 2008, when the new Springfield High School opened in a 138,400-square-foot building near where the former North building was located.

>> PART TWO: 15 years later: Springfield leaders reflect on combining high schools

The building was the largest project at the time under the Ohio Schools Facilities Commission, which funded 82% of the project and replaced all 16 district buildings.

“When the idea to combine was originally proposed to the community, of course there were naysayers who thought the idea would never work – that two sides would never be brought together,” said Superintendent Bob Hill, who has been in his position for eight years.

“(The high school) has taken the best of our city, housed it under one roof and used it to mold and shape our students to the future leaders of tomorrow, something that would not have been possible had those two schools not combined,” he said.

Springfield City School District, the 32nd largest in Ohio, serves 7,300 students across 17 buildings and “is the most diverse and welcoming” district in Clark County, Hill said. Its students are 46% White, 27% Black, 15% Multiracial, 11% Hispanic and 1% Asian or Pacific Islander. They also serve 600 English Language Learners and more than 250 students who are classified as homeless.

The district is part of the Federal Community Eligibility Program and considered to be 100% economically disadvantaged, allowing schools to provide no-cost breakfast and lunch to all students. They also offer free preschool to all students, serving more than 500 each year.

Preschool “is absolutely necessary due to our extreme levels of poverty to ensure that our students begin school on somewhat equal footing,” Hill said.

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

Struggle with state standards

District students do struggle to meet state performance standards, starting behind their peers, Hill said. However, officials have created multiple systems to support student and staff well-being and encourage an academic environment and culture to help students grow and succeed.

When North and South first merged, one of the main goals was to personalize the experience for students to be more involved, feel wanted and make sure graduates had skills and attributes to grow and succeed.

The high school was divided into several academies, called small learning communities, that were based on student interests. The school was set up this way until about 2017, when it changed to a more comprehensive school, and the small academies were eliminated in favor of a seven-period school day.

When looking at how the city has changed in 15 years since the merger, it’s “really been financially,” Hill said. The district receives 76% of its funding from the state. However, one mill in Springfield raises only $78 for every student, compared to neighboring districts of similar size raising $250.

“This makes us the 601st lowest in the state out of 606 for the amount of local financial support raised per student. That number really points to the correlation between poverty and academic performance,” he said. “It’s a cycle we’re really trying to break at this point, but it’s all based on valuation of property, and the only way to change that is if the value goes up.”

Some community members have criticized the district for its scores, but Hill said in a letter to community stakeholders that a more accurate representation is the performance index (PI). The PI measures the achievement of every student, receiving points for every student’s level of achievement, and not just whether they reach a “proficient” score, Hill said.

If using the PI for all public and public charter districts in Ohio, Springfield ranks 714 out of 859. When looking at public and non-charter school districts, Springfield ranks 591 out of 607, with other schools also “typically considered urban with an extremely high level of poverty.”

“Although our ranking is not ideal and not acceptable to any member of our team, I assure you that the district is working to meet the needs of all of our students and we are guided through a well-defined strategic plan,” Hill said.

Springfield, as other districts, faced challenges from the coronavirus pandemic, which set back students as they transitioned from in-person to remote learning and back in-person again.

Springfield is the local district that received the most in COVID relief funds, also known as Elementary and Secondary Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds.

To help the district meet the needs of students and close learning gaps created by COVID-19, they used some of their $46.9 million on 61 additional staff, summer enrichment programs, additional curriculum resources and professional development.

The district also created a strategic plan for 2022-2025 that engaged more than 2,000 stakeholders and over 100 hours of focus group input. The theme of the plan is the “FIELD,” which calls out to: Foster social emotional learning, Inspire and advance teaching and learning, Embrace inclusive culture, Leverage business and community partnerships and Demonstrate operational excellence.

Hill said this system promotes a positive culture focused on student and staff well-being, engaged curriculum, instruction and assessment programs to prepare students for life; gives the financial confidence to move the district forward; and creates a vision document that focuses on student and staff needs.

“It was truly borne out of input from the community, and our planning partners were significantly impressed with the amount of input received… We truly believe that this plan is what the district and city is looking for,” he said.

Rich in opportunities

In the last 15 years, Hill said the school has produced Ivy League graduates, professional athletes, scientists, chemists, doctors and more.

“The school remains the most opportunity rich option for students in Clark County and continues to expand offerings to students of all interests and backgrounds. That to me in itself is a huge, huge success,” he said.

Mike McDorman, president and CEO of the Greater Springfield Partnership, said schools play an important role in determining where businesses and people choose to locate.

“The community has momentum and continues to become more vibrant with significant new housing starts and a downtown that is resurging,” he said.

The district has more than 20 AP offerings along with an International Baccalaureate program to attract top level students looking for high level post-secondary educational opportunities, McDorman said.

To continue to evolve and change the district for it to be successful, Hill said they must be visionary in all areas of education. This includes, but not limited to, further the creation of a collaborative environment; have educators look for opportunities to change, grow, innovate, improve, take risks and learn from mistakes; foster collaborations through goals and visions; be consistent with shared values; and celebrate the “small” wins.

“We hope to shape the future of education here in Springfield through all of those actions,” Hill said.

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