K-12 EDUCATION: Local schools pass the test

County schools brave economic storm with new programs, outlook
2010-02-19T00:00:00Z K-12 EDUCATION: Local schools pass the test By Carmen McCollum - carmen.mccollum@nwi.com, (219) 662-5337 nwitimes.com

There's been lots of discussion about cuts in education, particularly at the K-12 level where $300 million has been slashed.

But local superintendents say there are still plenty of good things happening in education. They say they are working hard not to cut programs but to look at operational expenses which can be trimmed.

Superintendents point to the graduation rates which climbed in 2009. Indiana's graduation rate was 81.5 percent, climbing 3.7 percentage points. Many local school districts did even better, ranking in the upper 80s and 90s. All but three high schools in the area showed improvement.

Educators also are pleased that 21 local schools in Lake and Porter counties were among 188 schools statewide that earned Four Star awards for 2008-09.

Many schools are doing a very good job, said Merrillville Superintendent Tony Lux.

"We're facing higher expectations and higher standards with fewer dollars," he noted.

As a result of the budget cuts, Hobart Superintendent Peggy Buffington said the district is doing some very innovative things at the elementary level. In the fall, the district will unveil an early learning center at George Earle Elementary School. All kindergarten students will be housed at the elementary school.

Buffington said Hobart schools will have to cut 5 percent or more than $1 million from its budget. She said putting kindergarteners in one building and moving the first- through fifth-graders to other buildings will increase class size slightly and reduce the number of teachers needed, ultimately saving the district some money.

Buffington expects there will be nearly 300 kindergarteners at George Earle Elementary. She said the Parents as Partners program, along with an early child development center will be housed at George Earle.

"Kacey Allen will remain as principal. There will be a number of resources there for parents and children," Buffington said.

River Forest Superintendent James Rice said he is very proud of the alternative school program developed with the Lake Station school system.

The two school districts partnered to make the program possible and retain students who otherwise might have dropped out of school.

"These students have been able to earn credits, graduate and get their diplomas," Rice said. "It was very successful last year and our numbers show it's going to be successful this year. We initiated this program about a year and a half ago."

The graduation rate at River Forest jumped from 61.6 percent in 2008 to 70.4 percent in 2009 while the graduation rate at Lake Station' Edison went from 64.4 percent to 71.9 percent, showing that more students graduated from both schools.

As a result of considerable research and planning, River Forest schools also were able to qualify all three of its elementary schools for Title I programming, which provides extra help in reading.

In the past, students had to qualify for the extra help, Rice said. Now that all three elementary schools are considered Title I schools, all students are entitled to the same services.

Rice said that designation allows them to offer assistance to all 898 students as needed.

In just a few months, East Chicago Superintendent Michael Harding said the city's schools already are seeing success with two new programs that have been implemented -- Fast ForWord and Read 180.

Both programs started in November for grades two through nine. Grade 10 will be added next year, he said.

Harding is also excited about the strategic planning process the district has embarked on, will include East Chicago community members, businesses, parents and students.

Highland Superintendent Mike Boskovich said his district is enthusiastic about its curriculum mapping and Response to Intervention processes that are under way.

"I think our district is very ahead of the curve with RTI, and we're doing a lot with that program," he said.

Response to Intervention is a way to help at-risk students before they fall behind and are considered disabled. Educators say it will reduce the number of children who are placed in special education programs and get them the help they need to be successful.

"Curriculum mapping is our way of having an articulated curriculum for K-12. We're actually mapping what we teach and how we teach. What that does is show gaps in instruction and how we can improve student learning by narrowing those gaps," Boskovich said.

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