From the one-room schoolhouse that had five students in its first graduating class to today’s expansive district that educates 3,800 students each year, Avon Lake has built a legacy of excellence during its 100 years.
The district, which has earned prestigious rankings from U.S. News & World Report for 15 consecutive years, celebrates the century mark this 2022-2023 school year.
“Our high school is nationally recognized because we are a really, really good Pre-K to 12th grade school district. When our kids walk into high school, they are prepared to be successful,” says Superintendent Bob Scott, who has led Avon Lake City Schools for 18 years. More than 90% of graduating seniors go on to a two- or four-year school, and a new study showed that 86% of those students went on to earn that two- or four-year degree.
But Scott says Avon Lake is not only a stellar academic school district, it’s also an enviable fine arts school with a superior athletic program.
“We’ve had state champions in golf, tennis, cross country, basketball and football,” he says. The district’s fine arts programs and productions rival those at colleges and universities. “Our fine arts programs are unbelievable: vocal music, instrumental music, drama, our fall and spring plays,” he says.
That level of excellence in the arts is something that can only be cultivated and nurtured over time, adds Bill Zurkey, who was choral director at Avon Lake High School from 1987 to 2013. He was inducted into the National High School Hall of Fame in July 2018.
“The thing that you can’t buy in our business is tradition. There’s always been a really fine choral tradition, music tradition here,” says Zurkey, adding that during his tenure, which also includes decades as a football coach, he went from having 90 students in his program to nearly 400. “We continued to grow because people moved into this community for the sports, music and drama programs.”
This illustrates one of the key components that has made Avon Lake such a successful district over the years, explains Dale Cracas, a retired teacher with 29 years in Avon Lake who taught social studies in grades seven through 12. Education is a three-legged stool with the administration, the staff, and parents and students, he says.
“Everything revolves around whether the school district has the funds to operate and to be able to hire a quality staff and quality administrators,” says Cracas. “Then you [need] parents who are willing to support the schools and also support their own children as they go through the educational system. We have always had all of those critical components here,” he says.
That support made its way to Jeanette Smith when her oldest son passed away in 2004.
“The school community and everyone around us really supported myself and the kids,” says Smith, who began volunteering at Redwood Elementary School and then became a recess monitor. After that she worked as a sub for the position that she eventually accepted at Eastview Elementary School, where she worked until this past August.
Smith, along with her husband, is an alumni of Avon Lake City Schools and has a long legacy connected to the district. “When Eastview was built in 1950, my grandmother was the cook there,” she says. “My aunt was also the librarian at Eastview. My husband comes from a large family, too. From the first graduating class at the high school in 1926, there’s a relative in almost every year.”
In fact, all four educators chose to raise and educate their own children in Avon Lake.
“We lived and breathed this town and all the people in it,” Zurkey says. “I can’t imagine doing anything else and I wouldn’t change it for anything.”