Superintendents grapple with changes affecting K-12 education

2012-02-26T00:00:00Z 2014-02-12T13:25:35Z Superintendents grapple with changes affecting K-12 educationBy Carmen McCollum carmen.mccollum@nwi.com, (219) 662-5337 nwitimes.com

Last year was pivotal for K-12 education in Indiana with a number of hot button issues including collective bargaining, vouchers, teacher evaluation and merit pay.

However, it will be a few years before the true impact of the reform package is known, said Terry Spradlin, associate director of the Center for Evaluation and Education Policy at Indiana University, Bloomington.

"School districts are working very hard to figure out teacher evaluations," he said, adding the center intends to survey state superintendents in coming weeks about planning and implementing teacher evaluations.

Nearly 4,000 students across Indiana have participated in the voucher program in the current school year. A voucher, or "Choice Scholarship," is a state payment that qualifying families can use to offset tuition costs at participating private or parochial schools. Students qualify based on total household income and the amount of the scholarship corresponds with the public school district in which the student lives.

While Marion Superior Court Judge Michael Keele ruled the Indiana Choice Scholarship program is constitutional, an appeal likely will be filed. With charter schools, there has been an expansion in the number of organizations that can sponsor charters meaning there will be more on the horizon.

And for the first time ever, the state intervened with seven schools, taking over four of them because of low performance, including Gary's Roosevelt Career and Technical Academy.

Spradlin said these are some of the issues school districts across the state are struggling with.

"The main message for school districts is to do the best job possible in the context of everyday learning," he said. "Do what's in the best interest of students and make sure that students are challenged, and provide rigorous, innovative and exciting curriculum. It will be important to instill 21st century learning skills and create a motivated workforce."

Meanwhile, Spradlin said indicators like ISTEP-Plus scores and graduation rates continue to inch up.

Peggy Buffington, School City of Hobart superintendent, said as educators embrace accountability there is a great desire to see the state implement a fair grading system using letter grades in an A-F system. They also hope the state expands early childhood opportunities as well as college and career readiness initiatives, including more accurate assessments and dual credit programming, she said.

"Finally, it is critical the state look at restoring the money from the painful budget cuts that schools took," she said. "Many schools have survived these budget cuts through drastic measures and the usage of stimulus money which is now gone. Providing high-quality services and programs for our children to be successful should be the state's No. 1 priority, along with the financial support to get the job done."

Buffington said the district is proud of the dedication and hard work of the faculty in pursuing success for its students.

"Literacy is a top priority at every level and content area. We have teachers who embrace reading and writing workshops as well as provide intervention programs to help students achieve, including READ 180 and FastForWord," Buffington said.

Hobart schools also are working on college and career readiness with its partners in Northwest Indiana, making progress with assessments that actually measure readiness and how to improve, increasing dual credit classes and providing career pathway classes, she said.

Dan DeHaven, Lake Station Community Schools superintendent, said the district became involved in the state's celebrated 8-Step Process last school year. He said that process, along with working with math consultant Robert Trammel has helped teachers improve instruction and students to learn more.

"Bob Trammel has really been instrumental in helping our high school students to improve their ECA scores and we will continue to work with him next year," DeHaven said.

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