BACK TO SCHOOL: More college credit and online curriculum at Firelands

Up to 50 hours of college credit courses will now be available for Firelands High School students while an expansion of online science curriculum at South Amherst Middle and Firelands Elementary schools rolls out this year.

Mike Von Gunten is beginning his third school year as superintendent at Firelands after serving as the district’s director of educational services from 2012 to 2015.

Next Tuesday, 1,700 students return to class — 550 at FHS, 450 at SAMS, and 700 at FES.

“We’re very excited to be providing our students with this amount of college credit through Lorain County Community College,” said Von Gunten. “We also have a new AP physics offering that’s new for this year. It’s the first time it will be available at our high school.”

FHS students already had the ability to take LCCC classes without leaving the Firelands campus, but 50 credit hours is the most that’s ever been offered in the partnership, Von Gunten said.

At SAMS, the Lorain County General Health District will offer a “common view collaborative,” which aims to improve health knowledge among students and address risky behaviors associated with teens and preteens.

“It’s about developing communication and life skills too,” Von Gunten said. “It’s about creating a positive school environment that improves both social and academic outcomes. Our ‘Parenting in the 21st Century’ event touched on a few of these topics last year, but this will now be geared specifically for middle school. Part of a good education is teaching kids how to make good decisions.”

Science classes at both SAMS and FES will move further from traditional textbooks.

More Chromebooks for SAMS students have been purchased from Discovery Education to help with the expansion of online work. Science classes at FES will also have more of an online component but will retain more pen and paper aspects than SAMS.

“This is sort of a test for the district to eventually move toward an all-online resource,” Von Gunten said. “We’re not trying to get rid of textbooks entirely, but we’re moving toward curriculum that’s made to be accessed online.”

During the 2015-2016 school year, the district unsuccessfully attempted to pass a levy three times that would have provided a local share for building a new school to house both elementary and middle school students. FHS is in its 63rd year of operation and SAMS is in its 107th. The elementary school was built in 1961.

This fall, a building advisory committee will be brought back to attempt to address issues such as antiquated boilers, roof repairs, electrical infrastructure that’s unable to handle modern devices, leaky plumbing, and energy efficiency.

It will also review enrollment studies, property valuations, conduct listening sessions with staff, parents, and residents, as well as recommend a long-term facility solution to the board of education.

“We’ve taken a step back and tried to listen to the community a little bit,” Von Gunten said. “We just want to facilitate a conversation on how to address our needs moving forward.

“The issue hasn’t gone away. Our middle school is old and our high school isn’t far behind. We’re looking for community participation in all parts of this process.”

Jonathan Delozier can be reached at 440-647-3171 or @DelozierNews on Twitter.

By Jonathan Delozier