As school districts across the county struggle with issues ranging from funding to bullying, officials don't want to forget all the good things happening in schools and the progress students, teacher and staff are making to improve education across the region.
For Mike Berta, Portage Township Schools superintendent, last year was the culmination of years of hard work that resulted in the district attaining exemplary status, Myers Elementary School being named a national Blue Ribbon school and Kyle and Jones elementary schools earning state Four Star School status.
The distinctions, said Berta, didn't come without planning and a lot of hard work by students, staff, teachers and parents.
"Foremost for any organization, you have to have a plan, and you have to clearly identify what you want to accomplish," he said. To reach those goals, "you have to create an environment or climate to optimize the skills and talent of everyone in the organization and create an environment of collaboration."
"Portage schools have evolved into an organization with laserlike focus in achieving those goals," said Berta.
Valparaiso Community Schools Superintendent Andy Melin would agree about collaboration between staff, teachers, students and parents in making his district successful.
"Here in Valparaiso, the culture that exists in our community is one in valuing education," said Melin, whose district also had a National Blue Ribbon school, Hayes Leonard Elementary School, in 2010. Northview, Central, Cooks Corners and Memorial elementary schools and Ben Franklin Middle School have all been named Four Star Schools.
The biggest accomplishment, said Melin, is the offering of full-day kindergarten. Of the 495 kindergarten students enrolled this year in Valparaiso, 476 are in the full-day program.
Melin believes that reflect the culture of the district and community.
"The culture of our school system is that people believe in the importance of education and setting high expectations. Everyone takes that very seriously to maximize the learning potential of each student."
Both superintendents also know that their districts are not islands, that collaboration between the school districts within Porter County is also important. Districts share responsibilities for special education and vocational education, they said, but more importantly, they share ideas and knowledge.
"The superintendents meet monthly at the interlocal. While in session, much of the dialog focuses on working together, how to accomplish things. The dialog is highly collaborative. The interlocal is a mechanism for collaboration to take place," said Berta.
Both Melin and Berta said while their districts achieved success last year, they aren't sitting still this year.
Melin said the staff is reviewing response to instruction techniques.
"We are looking at what to do to enhance RTI. It is for all students, not just struggling students, but for high-achieving students," said Melin, adding the method looks at ways to be better and make education more effective for each student.
"We are tackling new ideas, new concepts," he said.
"I can't predict the future. Much will be dictated by legislation at the state and federal levels. Decision in the future locally for educating our kids will be founded on research and data on best practices from schools that are achieving," said Berta.