Portage may battle Valparaiso and Chesterton on the football field and rivals Hebron and Kouts may be fierce competitors on the basketball court, but when it comes for doing what's best for students in Porter County, educators here agree it's better to drop the competitiveness and collaborate on goals, ideas and values.
"Collectively, we know more than we do separately," said Portage Township School Board President Glenda Owens.
She and representatives from all Porter County school boards meet on a regular basis in what's been coined the Porter County Board of Boards to share ideas about education.
"There may be differences in sizes of our districts, but our goals are the same, to provide the best education for our kids," she said, adding that getting together with other school board members is almost like on-going training, learning what works and what doesn't in each district.
The collaboration isn't limited to school board members, nor is it limited to Porter County. School officials are more often getting together to share ideas, issues and concerns.
The seven superintendents of the seven county districts meet monthly as members of the Porter County Interlocal Board, said Portage Superintendent Mike Berta, adding the group originally formed to administer special education in the county -- but has grown.
"There is a lot of dialogue about matters common to all of us," said Berta.
There is also the Northwest Indiana Public School Study Council, which gathers superintendents from Lake, Porter and LaPorte counties.
"Creating a network with area superintendents offers an avenue to share ideas and to learn from each other's experience. Particularly, as a young superintendent, it is rewarding to bounce ideas off veterans," said Union Township Superintendent John Hunter.
"We have been very collaborative and cooperative in Porter and Lake counties. I have seen growth in our collaboration for professional development and on legislative issues," Hunter said. "As we join forces and become more collaborative, our programs and services improve, which benefit the students and the communities we serve."
"There is much to be learned from one another. When someone is successful, time and energy can be saved. There is always an advantage to sitting down with people with common issues," said Berta, adding that each district, individually, doesn't have to "reinvent the wheel" if another district has answers to issues.
"Twenty years ago, we each would have had to take the initiative to pick up the phone to talk to one another," said Berta, adding the formalized groups help maintain a regular conversation between school officials.
"And I can't think of any organization where it is more important to work together when the goal is to educate kids," said Berta.