Construction of new school a key focus in Fairport Harbor School District

Jan. 19—EDITOR'S NOTE — This is one in a series looking at what Lake County communities, school districts and agencies experienced in 2023 and what is facing them in 2024.

May 26, 2023, will be recalled as an important day in the history of the Fairport Harbor School District.

That's when the district held a groundbreaking ceremony for construction of a new pre-kindergarten through 12th-grade school.

"This event was the culmination of over 10 years of effort led by the district and supported by the local community, teachers and government officials, Fairport Harbor Schools Superintendent William Billington said.

The school is being built on the current property of Harding Middle and High School at 329 Vine St. Plans call for the new school to be situated on the green space and parking lot that is adjacent to Harding — along New Fourth Street, near the intersection of Vine — rather than within the footprint of the current building.

Once the new school becomes operational, the district will demolish Harding, as well as McKinley Elementary School. Both buildings are more than 100 years old.

Construction of the new school was mentioned prominently in a report provided by Billington, which highlighted the district's major accomplishments in 2023 and top goals for 2024.

Soil at the construction site was prepared for building activity, and foundations for the new school have been poured, Billington said.

"Above-ground work is starting and the camera to watch the live feed is up and running," Billington said in a Jan. 16 email. "This can be viewed on our district website."

It's anticipated that the new school will be built and ready to occupy by the start of 2025-26 academic year.

"We are currently within our projected timeline for a fall 2025 grand opening," Billington said in his report.

The project also is proceeding within the defined budget, which Billington said is a result of the cooperative efforts involving the district, C.T. Taylor Construction and ThenDesign Architecture.

C.T. Taylor, of Hudson, is managing the construction project, while ThenDesign, which is based in Willoughby, designed the new school.

In the fall of 2023, C.T. Taylor, the school district and Fairport Harbor Village government succeeded in finding an alternative to a plan that called for construction workers to park their vehicles on Harding High School's Greig Field for the next two years.

If Greig Field had been transformed into a makeshift parking lot, the Harding High School football team would have been forced to play all of its home games elsewhere for the 2024 and 2025 seasons.

However, that plan was scrapped after a discussion involving the three entities. These officials all indicated that they favored a plan for the construction workers to use parking spaces around Memorial Park.

The park, located between Second and Third and Plum and Eagle streets, is situated a short distance from the school construction site.

"This parking plan will have a smaller impact on the residents who live near the school, and the school can continue with our football program and home games at Greig Field," Billington said. "It's a huge win for the school district and the community to find a solution."

In 2024, ThenDesign will be working with groups of district teachers and staff, school board members and community members to select furniture and technology for the building.

"We're actually going to do a furniture fair in the spring, where we'll have (things like desks, chairs and tables) and we're going to let people try them out," Billington said. "Because you really have one chance to get this right. So the more input we get from staff, students and community, that increases our percentage to get this right."

Some of the district's other noteworthy achievements from the past year included:

—2023 marked the fourth straight year that all members of the graduating class of Fairport Harding High School graduated with either a career credential or college credits.

Ensuring that every student graduates from Harding High School with either college credits or a career credential fulfills a goal that was established in a district plan called Profile of a Graduate: Vision 20/20.

—The district showed noteworthy improvement on its 2022-23 State Report Card.

Fairport Harbor Schools increased its performance index score by 9 points, compared with its 2021-22 Ohio Report Card.

"The performance index represents whether student performance on state tests met established thresholds and how well students performed on tests overall, according to the Ohio Department of Education," Billington said.

These are state tests taken by third- through 12th-graders.

The superintendent also noted that on the 2022-23 state report card, the district achieved the third-highest jump in perform index scores of all Ohio districts giving the state's end-of-course tests.

"The strong focus on the science of reading has had a positive impact on the student success in the district and on state testing reading scores," Billington said. "We still have work to do, but we're going in the right direction."

—At the start of the 2023-24 school year, the district implemented a new math curriculum that Billington said will have a positive impact on student achievement as measured on state tests.

The district received an Extended Learning Grant from the Ohio Department of Education and Workforce to purchase new math books and materials.

"But there's more than just the curriculum and the books," Billington said. "It's really about the hard work that our teachers are doing."

He noted that district math teachers have been learning new methods for delivering the math standards to students. Teachers are receiving assistance in this endeavor from the Region 4 State Support Team of the Ohio Department of Education; the Educational Service Center of the Western Reserve; and Instructional Partners, which is a nonprofit organization that strives to improve instruction for all students.

In addition, Billington said the district is working on developing a new English Language Arts curriculum for students in kindergarten through grade 12.

"But we are kind of waiting until the state Department of Education and Workforce releases its recommended curriculum materials for ELA in the early spring of 2024," he said.

Billington said he also plans to bring in the Focus 3 advisory firm to conduct "R Factor Training" in the district.

He said R Factor Training is based on the idea of "E + R = O — the Event, your Reaction and the Outcome."

"The training goes back to, you can't control the event, you can't control the outcome, you can only control your reaction." he said. "It's really working on how you react in a situation."