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Crawford's hard work pays off

March 09, 2011
It's good to see people who are passionate about their work succeed and then be recognized for that success. For the folks at the Crawford County Community School Corp., things have been really good lately.

Last week, a celebration was held at English Elementary School in honor of it being named a federal No Child Left Behind Blue Ribbon School for 2010. It was the third time in five years that such a ceremony has been held at a Crawford County elementary school, first with Milltown in 2006 and then Leavenworth in 2009.

The Blue Ribbon celebration, which included appearances by Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Dr. Tony Bennett and English High School alum Charlotte Lucas, who with husband Forrest founded Lucas Oil Products Inc., came just a week after the school corporation learned it has been recommended to receive district accreditation.

That's a big deal, folks. Crawford County will join just 25 other school corporations across Indiana to have district accreditation through AdvancED, the world's leading education accreditation service.

Even more impressive, though, is the work that Crawford County officials put into preparing for last month's three-day visit from the Quality Assurance Review team from AdvancED. Therein lies the true value of district accreditation: the process, not necessarily the result.

A corporation district accreditation committee, led by Superintendent Dr. Mark Eastridge and Milltown Elementary Principal Tami Geltmaker, who served as the chair, worked for three years defining both the corporation's mission and vision and providing evidence that it was achieving them. That meant reviewing practices — from the classroom to administration to communication with parents and the general public — and then addressing deficiencies.

That's not an easy process. Nobody likes to take a long, hard look at themselves because it often means uncovering weaknesses that they would rather ignore. However, once those weak areas are known, they can be addressed and turned into strengths.

The school corporation went into the district accreditation process from a position of strength, but it came out much stronger. The committee invited parents and community members into the process, which offered a different perspective.

During the 15 years that I have covered Crawford County schools, I've seen how the corporation has improved, and I've seen the reasons why. I remember when English Elementary's ISTEP scores were hovering around 20 percent. A very good staff, along with excellent leadership in Principal Debbie Ade, determined that was unacceptable, rolled up their sleeves and went to work. By the 2004-05 school year, 100 percent of English's sixth-graders passed the math portion of ISTEP, a feat that would be repeated three times.

That is extremely impressive for a school where, during the 2009-10 academic year, 71 percent of students came from households with incomes low enough to qualify for the free or reduced lunch program. If you mention that to English's staff, however, they will quickly tell you the income levels of students' families have little bearing on a student's ability to learn.

That is the attitude of administrators, teachers, aides and staff members throughout the corporation. Crawford County doesn't have the physical resources of most schools, and that likely won't change anytime soon — it was enough of a struggle to get county leaders on board to approve the one-time use of gaming revenue to help fund an upgrade to the high school science labs and media center — but education is about more than physical resources; it's about dedication, community and an understanding that success is possible.

During the exit conference with the team of educational professionals that spent three days last month reviewing the school corporation during its bid for district accreditation, the team's chair, Cameron Carlson, an assistant professor in the Educational Administration and Higher Education Department at Southern Illinois University, noted that a spirit of collaboration and shared leadership within the corporation has fostered a "can-do, no-excuses" attitude that pushes the corporation to excel.

The Crawford County Community School Corp. is an excellent school district made up of hard-working people who are passionate about the success of their students. It is good to see them once again be recognized for that passion. Instead of resting on those laurels, however, they're going to keep working to get better. That willingness to continue to push themselves is why it's a safe bet that there will be more honors down the road.

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