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State Board of Ed. 'spotlights' Crawford

February 10, 2010
The Crawford County Community School Corp., having celebrated many academic successes recently, was recognized again last Tuesday morning, as it was the "Spotlight School" at the Indiana State Board of Education's monthly meeting in Indianapolis.

In December, English Elementary School became the third of the corporation's elementary schools to be nominated for the federal No Child Left Behind Blue Ribbon School award in the past five years. Leavenworth received the award, given to fewer than 10 schools in the state each year, this past fall, and Milltown was named a Blue Ribbon School four years ago.

Leavenworth and Milltown each also were named a Four Star School — the highest honor a school can receive from the state — a few weeks ago. It was Milltown's second time in three years to achieve that status.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Dr. Tony Bennett, in welcoming the Crawford County officials — Superintendent Dr. Mark Eastridge, English Principal Debbie Ade, Leavenworth Principal Mike Key, Milltown Principal Tami Geltmaker and school board president Debbie Kaiser — said those successes are even more special when considering the economic conditions in the county.

"If you visit Crawford County, the challenges that meet that county and that school corporation with the students they serve are pretty evident," he said. "As you drive through the community, as you drive through the county, as you visit aspects of the county, it would strike you as a place you would maybe find difficulty in attaining what we refer to as academic excellence."

The impressive thing about educators there, Bennett said, is they don't use poor economic conditions as an excuse, and instead only look at how they can help students be successful. Crawford County, he said, is "a school corporation that, I think, gets it."

Eastridge began Crawford County's presentation, which was being simulcast live via a two-way Web feed to English, Leavenworth and Milltown Elementary schools, by giving Bennett a gift with a quote that, Eastridge said, sums up the philosophy at Crawford County:

"The power of a leader. True leaders are not those who strive to be first, but those who are first to strive and who will give their all for the success of the team."

That attitude hasn't produced results just at the elementary level, Eastridge said. The percentage of Crawford County Junior-Senior High School seniors who graduated in 2008 represented the second largest increase in the state, he said.

"So, I think that's reflective not only of success at the elementaries, but now we begin seeing system benefits," he said.

That success, Eastridge said, "starts with quality leadership at the building level." He praised the dedication exhibited by the corporation's principals, noting that Geltmaker used the two-hour drive to Indianapolis that morning to study student data.

However, leadership has to come from more than just the principals, Eastridge said.

"We have a tremendous amount of teacher leadership, and within that leadership they take ownership of each and every student," he said.

Eastridge noted how, during a staff meeting at Milltown some time after the school received the Blue Ribbon award, a staff member looked at some data and said the school wasn't doing the job it needed to be doing.

Following Eastridge, each of the three principals briefly spoke to the state officials, sharing what they believe to be keys to the academic successes at their schools.

"For several years, we've been able to provide all-day, everyday kindergarten" thanks to grant funding, Ade said. "From my perspective, at what I consider a pretty high-poverty school, that is a great way to get those kids jump-started."

Also important, she said, have been additional state and federal dollars that have helped provide reading literacy programs and enabled the school corporation to hire newly graduated certified teachers and even some retired teachers as teaching assistants. Additional funding also enabled curriculum to be aligned corporation-wide.

Geltmaker talked about the importance of having all education staff review testing data. This allows teachers in the lower grades to know what needs to be done to better prepare students for the upper grades, she explained.

Milltown, Geltmaker said, has been helped by all five of the corporation's elementary schools working together. She added that she believes it is only a matter of time before Marengo and Patoka Elementary schools receive recognition for their hard work.

Key agreed, saying, "Without them, it would have been very difficult to be where we are now."

Parents also play a huge part in the success of students, Key said. Leavenworth, he explained, has used field trips to get parents more involved. The school several years ago began taking field trips that involved more "out on the edge" activities, like skiing, rock climbing, hiking and canoeing, he said. It worked as more parents, especially fathers, have gotten involved, Key said.

"It has made a tremendous difference," he said.

Leavenworth also initiated intermediate looping for math and language arts in the upper grades, Key said. He explained that this is where students have the same teachers for those subjects in grades four, five and six.

"So, (teachers) know at the end product, that sixth-grader going to the junior high, we know right where they are, and it has worked," he said.

While improving ISTEP scores were a goal when he first became principal about a decade ago, Key said he also was troubled that only 42 percent of Leavenworth students pursued some type of secondary education after graduating from high school.

"I wanted to change that," he said. "That wasn't a good enough number."

This past year, Key said, that number is up to 78 percent.

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