There's more to educating students than reading, writing and arithmetic in Porter County.
"I hope that more and more of us are able to articulate the purpose of education," said E. Ric Frataccia, superintendent of Portage Township Schools, the largest school district in Porter County.
"Reading, writing and arithmetic are part of it. Our higher purpose is to provide our youth with the skills, knowledge and character attributes to flourish in life," said Frataccia. "We have to ask ourselves, do they have the knowledge to succeed in life? Do they have the ability to solve problems?
"What is their character? That is key to being an American," said Frataccia, adding values such as fairness, justice, responsibility, courage and respecting others and themselves are all part of the education system.
Those, along with the reading, writing and arithmetic, are part of educating the next generation. Reaching that goal requires climbing a mountain of challenges.
As school finances become tighter, said Frataccia, schools have to look at how to cut costs without harming education.
"It has been a challenge for the last five years and we anticipate that it will remain a challenge," he said.
Frataccia said, like in any business looking to cut costs, they look at personnel.
"When we have a natural attrition, we really look at can we make three jobs into two jobs and can we make those jobs effective. In the teaching job, it is more difficult because of class size," he said.
Educators have to ask if they can continue to be successful as class size increases. Currently, the class size of 30 is the number where educating children reaches a point of diminishing returns, based on research, he said.
"We are all looking at that and the immediate effect of an increase in class size," he said.
Frataccia said one of the strengths of the No Child Left Behind act was to put the idea of best practices in the forefront.
"There exists a set of researched-based best practices. My colleagues and certainly us in Portage have pounded them in the last five years," he said, as a way of improving education.
Students in Porter County schools score well in ISTEP and other standardized tests and the graduation rates at all high schools are above the state average.
"We send about 80 percent of our kids to college. That is about the county average. Of the kids we send to college, half complete it," said Frataccia.
The challenge, he said, is who guides that 50 percent who comes back. Where do they go? Who do they talk to? That is something Frataccia feels educators need to talk through.
It is also a challenge to help youngsters decide what they want to do when they grow up and to find the path to that goal, he said. It is a balancing act between what they may want and what they are capable of.
Portage students are tested in the seventh and eighth grades. The test gives them a score, which is an indication in which fields they may be successful.
There are other challenges for school districts throughout the county.
Keeping up with technology will continue to be a challenge.
"Our goal is to move our students and teachers in a one-to-one experience, but that takes money," he said, not to only buy computers or high-tech devices, but to make sure the district's infrastructure can support those devices.
Frataccia said superintendents throughout the county are facing many of the same issues. They share information and feedback with each other, an effort he'd like to see continue for the betterment of all students countywide.