Hilliard City Schools earns the highest possible rating on the state's report card-but it's not resting on its laurels.

According to the state of Ohio and residents of the Hilliard City School District, the Hilliard City Schools are passing with flying colors.

For the second year running, the Hilliard City School District earned the highest possible rating of "excellent with distinction" on the Ohio Department of Education's most recent 2008-'09 State Local Report Card. "This distinction has only been available for two years, and we are fortunate to have earned the top grade of A+ both years," says superintendent Dale A. McVey. "In a diverse district of this size, it is an exceptional accomplishment, and the credit goes to our hardworking students, staff and supportive community who continue to raise the bar and set the standard for excellent education in our district."

Likewise, the district's residents echoed the state's approval rating in a recent community survey, with eight out of 10 residents polled rating the district's performance as excellent or good. National averages reveal most districts receive around 51 percent approval from their residents. Also, nearly 90 percent of survey respondents indicated that the quality of education the district provides is holding steady or improving.

"We are pleased with the results of this poll," says McVey. "Any organization that receives an 80 percent approval rating is hitting the mark with their constituents. I am proud that the residents feel our students are receiving the quality education they expect and deserve."

Managing growth

The Hilliard City School District is the eighth largest district in Ohio, serving nearly 15,500 students. Over the past decade, the district has experienced steady growth, averaging an increase of 300 to 400 students each year. The district also is the largest employer in the city of Hilliard, with 1,800 staff members throughout its 25 school buildings and offices.

The administration and board of education have worked hard over the years to manage the growing number of students successfully and to address their needs with appropriate building space and learning conditions. Just this past fall, the district opened its third high school, Hilliard Bradley High School, to alleviate overcrowded conditions at the high school level.

Thanks to thoughtful planning and collaboration, Hilliard Bradley is a first-class facility designed with flexible space and programming to allow for shared curriculum with the other district high schools. Located in the wetlands of the Big Darby Creek, it also offers the entire district unique environmental learning opportunities.

The extraordinary growth of Hilliard City Schools also has brought a growing diversity among the student population. Not only are the district's students culturally diverse, but they also represent a wide array of learning styles and needs. One of the greatest strengths of Hilliard City Schools is its commitment to and success with personalizing education to meet each student's individual needs. This individual success has translated into a high-performing, excellent-rated district.

Supportive community

Hilliard City Schools enjoys strong support from residents and valuable partnerships with the business community. That combined backing plays an integral role in the overall success of the district. "We are fortunate here to benefit from caring and involved citizens who value quality education," McVey says. "Our community is undeniably connected to its school system, and our district is all the stronger for its support."

Community involvement within the school system runs the gamut, from more than 2,000 volunteers in the classroom to business donations and student mentoring to working on levy campaigns. Since 1999, the community has approved two bond issues, three operating levies and one permanent improvement levy to support the growth and resulting needs of the district-the most recent being the 2006 bond issue and 2008 operating levy to build and operate the new Hilliard Bradley High School.

"No district can thrive without the fiscal support of its community," McVey says. "However, we are not blind to the toll the struggling economy has taken on our residents. Therefore, over the past two years alone, we have implemented more than $7.5 million in staff reductions and department budget cuts to remain solvent without returning to the ballot."

The district also took a close look at transportation expenses and created a bus stop consolidation plan to eliminate nearly 900 bus stops from routes and save the district significant dollars. Likewise, a districtwide energy savings program utilizing light sensors and automatic temperature controls has realized a great return as well. The district continues to search for efficiencies and possible reductions that will allow it to delay a new levy for another year.

Powerful partners

Hilliard City Schools is fortunate to have strong relationships with area businesses. Across the district, there are more than 200 business partners who offer everything from financial contributions to assistance in the classroom. "There are many things we would not be able to accomplish within the district without the support of our business community," McVey says. "We are very proud of the close relationships we have established."

Businesses provide a wide variety of assistance, including fees to bring nationally renowned speakers into the district, financial support of summer school programs, employees to tutor students while on company time, food for meetings, and rewards and incentives to students and employees.

The district's Career Mentorship program is an excellent example of the difference business partners can make in a student's education. Around 120 students each year are introduced to the realities of the workplace through hands-on learning experiences, working side by side with professionals in a variety of business sectors-including medical, accounting, communications, marketing and education, to name a few.

The district also is the sole benefactor of the Hilliard Education Foundation (HEF). The foundation secures and administers contributions solely for the educational growth of Hilliard City Schools' students. The HEF just celebrated its 20th year of contributions to the district, which to date total 311 grants worth nearly $800,000.

The HEF grants fund a variety of projects, such as integration of technology into the classroom, teaching English as a second language, development of parental resources, leadership and teamwork development, literacy initiatives and the arts.

"We raise dollars to allow teachers to initiate innovative programming and unique learning experiences that are not always funded through the district's general funds," says HEF president Bobbi Mueller. "The Hilliard Education Foundation is pleased and proud to provide additional help to advance student achievement in academics and citizenship."

Student success

The students of Hilliard City Schools are thriving and succeeding, both academically and through a wide variety of extracurricular offerings. From pre-kindergarten through 12th grade, both in and out of the classroom, the well-rounded students of Hilliard City Schools achieve amazing accomplishments and meet some of the highest academic standards.

Approximately 93 percent of the district's graduates go on to attend postsecondary educational institutions. Each year, graduating seniors are offered record numbers of scholarships at colleges and universities across the nation. The district also takes great pride in annually recognizing National Merit Scholarship finalists and semifinalists.

Students find success through athletics, the arts and a multitude of clubs and student organizations as well. The Hilliard City Schools athletic teams compete at the local and state levels, boasting an impressive array of league titles and state championships. Most recently, Hilliard Davidson High School's football team took the Division I state title.

The district's music, fine arts and performing arts programs are some of the best in the nation, regularly recognized at the state, national and even international levels. This year, Hilliard Davidson High School's Chamber Orchestra was one of only 10 school orchestras in the world to be invited to perform at the prestigious Midwest Clinic in Chicago. The opportunity is considered the greatest honor a school orchestra can achieve.

The Hilliard City School District also is known for its strong commitment to community service projects. Hundreds of hours are devoted to various philanthropic efforts throughout the year. From bake sales to clothing and food drives to environmental advocacy, the district's staff and students provide valuable services and raise thousands of dollars annually to help those in need.

Ready for tomorrow

Today's global society, sparked by rapid technological advances and innovation, is putting new demands on America's workforce. Professionals must possess a whole new set of skills and knowledge to be successful in the future.

Nearly three years ago, the Hilliard City School District recognized the need to prepare students for this highly competitive landscape. In response, the district launched an exciting new initiative, High School 2020, to determine the knowledge, skills and educational experiences students will need to compete globally in the 21st century.

The recommendations that came out of this body of research have begun to transform how high school education is delivered in the district. Some of the new opportunities for students include dual enrollment partnerships with area colleges and universities; expanded mentorship opportunities; a new pre-engineering program; a revised Information & Communication Technology course; new online offerings, and a four-year high school planning initiative.

With great strides being made in the high schools, the effort now has expanded to include kindergarten through eighth grade with the district's K-8 2020 project. K-8 2020 has just reached completion and focuses its recommendations on equipping the youngest students in the district with the skills they will need in the 21st century. The combination of both bodies of work will provide Hilliard City Schools with a blueprint for success in the future.

In any school district, success is best measured through its students. Hilliard City Schools is building that success one student at a time, challenging and caring for each student, as individuals, to prepare them academically, socially and emotionally for the future. With common purpose, this school district and the extraordinary community in which it belongs will help each and every student be Ready for Tomorrow.

Carrie Bartunek is coordinator of school/community relations for Hilliard City Schools.

This story appeared in the May 2010 issue of Columbus Monthly.