Few school systems have embraced the opportunity presented by crisis quite like the one in Reynoldsburg, Ohio. Just five years ago, when the economy collapsed, the Reynoldsburg district was cutting deep into its staff budget and establishing buffers such as a $500 pay-to-play activity fee for families. Exasperated parents fled to neighboring districts, and voters repeatedly rejected the district’s levy requests. Pupil enrollment fell by 10 percent from 2008 to 2012, and once-crowded schools found themselves with extra space.
Reynoldsburg's leaders responded to hardship with innovation
But while many other districts succumbed to hand wringing at similar moments of despair, Reynoldsburg’s leaders responded with innovation. They slashed central-office staff and sent more resources to individual schools, empowering principals with key decision-making authority. They developed “themes” at schools, with a particular focus on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), and they established more charter schools and enhanced school choice throughout the district. Most unusually, they bartered with a community college, a hospital, a preschool, and a dance company to utilize its extra space in ways that benefitted its own students.
But perhaps most importantly, write Ellen Belcher and Terry Ryan in their informative profile of the district for the Fordham Institute, Limitless, Education, the Reynoldsburg Way, the 6,300-student district embraced a much-discussed but seldom-practiced...