Administrators address the GCSC 'state of our schools'

Saturday, September 28, 2013

In a year of unprecedented change for the Greencastle Community School Corporation, the subject of partnerships has come up time and time again -- partnerships of the schools with individual citizens and organizations; partnerships within the school of students, staff and administrators.

More of these partnerships were on display Thursday evening at State of Our Schools discussion with Superintendent Dawn Puckett and Assistant Superintendent Jeff Hubble.

Sponsored by the Greencastle League of Women Voters and the Greater Greencastle Chamber of Commerce, the evening was a chance for citizens to hear from the school's highest administrators of issues facing the corporation.

Following a brief introduction from Chamber president Scott Herrick, Puckett began speaking about the importance of public involvement in these partnerships.

"I appreciate you being here tonight," she told the several dozen community members in the Ridpath Primary School cafeteria. "By the time you go home, I hope we'll have some ideas about ways to extend our partnerships."

Puckett began by outlining the challenges of the last year. Nine of 12 GCSC administrators, herself included, were not in their current position one year ago. It has been and continues to be a learning experience for the leaders of the schools.

"Getting the right people in place is the single most important thing we do," Puckett said.

Even so, the education of children and the constant changes to that process do not stop. Last month, GCSC welcomed the largest kindergarten class in school history at 183 students. The swelling class size meant hiring new teachers and finding a place to put everybody.

"We are very excited about that (the large class) -- once we found a place to put them," Puckett said.

In addition to this were the cuts to classified staff hours to be in compliance with the Affordable Care Act.

Another challenge has come in the new teacher evaluation model the school has been adapting in the last two years. Although GCSC has twice been approved for $166,400 grants, the second installment is being held up by challenges to former state superintendent of public instruction Tony Bennett's school evaluation model.

For Greencastle, this means bonuses are on hold for the teachers who have already earned them.

In terms of changes in the classroom, much of the evening was focused on how technology is changing the way information is presented.

GCSC has made large investments in infrastructure to support the coming wave of digital materials in the classroom.

After assuring everyone "I'm not the book burning guy," Hubble briefly outlined that while printed materials will remain a vital part of what goes on in the classroom, devices such as tablets and even mobile phones can also be used in positive ways.

All of this, however, remains dependent upon effective instruction.

"It becomes a paperweight if we hand a kid a device but can't instruct them to use that device effectively," Hubble said.

The assistant superintendent also spent some time briefly outlining the debated common core standards that could soon be how schools and students are assessed.

Common core, Hubble said, tries to measure college readiness rather than the "crossing the finish line," model he said currently used by the ISTEP test.

While neither endorsing nor condemning common core, Hubble said educators have been busy preparing for what will be a challenging model for students and teachers.

"They are more aggressive," he said of the changing standards. "They will expect more of our kids."

While the evening saw one or two lively discussions, it was a mostly calm night of speaking and listening, questions and answers.

The good but not overwhelming turnout was a far cry from the night the community packed the same room last December.

Nine months later, challenges remain but the anger and desperation of that night are gone.

They have been replaced by a kind of understanding from a community and a school looking to move forward together.

"It means a lot that you've chosen to be here tonight," Puckett said to close her comments.

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