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Leavenworth nominated for Blue Ribbon

School is second Crawford County elementary nominated for federal award in three years

December 24, 2008
Three years ago, it was Milltown Elementary School's turn to be in the spotlight. Now, it's another Crawford County Community School Corp. elementary school's time to shine.

Leavenworth Elementary School is one of just eight schools in the state to be nominated for a 2009 federal No Child Left Behind Blue Ribbon Schools award.

Like Milltown, which went on to receive the award, Leavenworth was selected as a school with at least 40 percent disadvantaged students that have dramatically improved student achievement. Schools were also selected by being in the top 10 percent of the state with fewer than 40 percent disadvantaged students. Of the eight schools nominated, five fell into the former category.

Leavenworth, where 51 percent of students qualify for the free/reduced lunch program, 86.7 percent of all tested students passed both the English/language arts and math sections of the ISTEP+ exam this fall. That's a long way from the 2001-02 school year, where just 55.5 percent passed. Every year since, Leavenworth has been above the state average, which was 73.6 percent this fall.

"It is a tremendous recognition for the school system and the county," Crawford County Superintendent Dr. Mark Eastridge said.

Eastridge said he learned of the nomination when he received a cell phone call while driving to a conference on Dec. 3. The caller was Suellen Reed, the state's superintendent of public instruction.

"She's like, 'Mark, I've some good news for you,' " Eastridge said.

That day Eastridge relayed the message to Leavenworth Principal Mike Key, but asked him not to tell anyone. Two days later, on a Friday, Eastridge conducted an after-school meeting with faculty and staff at Leavenworth. Some were worried that the meeting was about something bad, but were pleasantly surprised.

Eastridge began by talking about Leavenworth's strengths as a school and how he received a call from the state's superintendent of public instruction. However, he let Key be the one to make the announcement.

"It was amazing to see the reaction of the staff," Eastridge said.

Key added, "It was absolutely wonderful. It was a highlight."

Then, the following Tuesday, Dec. 9, at Leavenworth's Christmas program, Key told the crowd of students, parents, grandparents and others. Eastridge added that he praised the entire community for helping make Leavenworth the school that it has become.

"Today, Leavenworth stands alongside not only the best schools in the state of Indiana, but the country," Eastridge said he told the crowd.

Key said that, like the Friday announcement to staff, was "a great moment. … The community needs to know how good their kids can be."

"It's just so great for the community to be able to say there will be other corporations who will want to come down and see what's going on in your school," he added.

Karen Sheller, who for years taught math to fourth- through sixth-graders at Leavenworth before becoming principal at Crawford County Junior High School this year, credited her former fellow staff for the school's achievement.

"Leavenworth has a very relaxed atmosphere," she said. "The teachers and the support staff all do whatever is necessary to get the job done."

That, Sheller said, includes Key as principal, who trusts the judgment of his staff.

"So, that combination just seems to work really well," she said.

In turn, Key, who became principal at Leavenworth mid-way through the 2000-01 school year credited his staff, as well as the other corporation principals, who meet often.

"It says a whole lot for a whole lot of people," he said of the corporation receiving two nominations within three years. "When we sit down and have directional meetings of where we want to have kids, we're all doing it" and the nominations to Milltown and now Leavenworth are a reflection of the work everyone has put into improving the school system.

Sheller also credited Leavenworth's willingness to try new things, such as "looping," where students in grades 4 through 6 keep the same teacher per subject each year, and having one single-gender class in an upper grade to take away the distractions of the boy-girl relationship.

Although she is now at CCJHS, Sheller said she still has pride in what Leavenworth has accomplished over the years.

"I really appreciate the staff down there including me in their celebration," she said.

Leavenworth officials will soon need to gather much data to present to the U.S. Department of Education, which will announce the award winners. The announcement isn't expected until next summer or fall.

Key said he plans on seeking the advice of Milltown Principal Tami Geltmaker and Morgan Elementary School Principal Lance Richards, whose school also received the Blue Ribbon award three years ago, when putting together Leavenworth's report, and added he hopes Leavenworth isn't the last Crawford County school to be nominated for the award.

"I want to be on top, and I want us as a county to be on top," he said, noting his competitive nature. "I'll do whatever I can do to help the (other schools) out."

Eastridge said Leavenworth being the corporation's second school to be nominated within three years shows the school system is headed in the right direction.

"For me personally, I just feel blessed," he said, crediting the schools' staffs and adding that he considers himself just "lucky enough to be along for the ride."

However, Eastridge said, he believes other schools in the corporation are just as capable. When Milltown was nominated three years ago and he was congratulating the school at a corporation principals' meeting, he said, "I remember saying, 'Next.' "

Now that Leavenworth has been nominated, Eastridge just might have to look around and once again say, "Next."

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