6 local schools earn four-star honor

GREENFIELD — Six Hancock County schools achieved four-star status in recognition of high achievement during the 2013-14 school year.

The honor was announced Tuesday by the Indiana Department of Education and recognized 281 schools statewide. In order to achieve the four-star designation, a school must be in the top 25th percentile of schools in two ISTEP-based categories. A qualifying school also must have earned an “A” in the state’s accountability system.

Honorees are Eden and J.B. Stephens elementary schools; Doe Creek Middle School; and Mt. Vernon, Eastern Hancock and New Palestine high schools.

Keith Fessler, principal of New Palestine High School, said, “I’m thrilled for our staff, our parents and our kids. They’re the ones who make it happen.”

This is the fifth year in a row the school achieved four-star status.

Fessler said high school teachers take a personal interest in every student. They try to identify the best approach to motivate every student; that personal attention, he said, is key to increasing student success.

A celebration of some sort is in the works at the two Greenfield elementary schools that made the list. J.B. Stephens Principal Matt Davis is new to the building this school year and said the credit goes to his predecessor, Candy Short, and the hard work of last year’s staff and students.

“It’s a good feeling to know I’m in a building that puts education (first),” Davis said, adding that he and Eden Principal Devon Marine hope to plan some sort of party recognizing the schools’ four-star status.

The six Hancock County schools honored is down slightly from the 2012-2013 school year, when seven were named to the list. For the 2011-12 school year, six were named to the list; for 2010-11, two were named; and in the 2009-10 school year, three were named.

This is the third year in a row for Mt. Vernon High School to make the list, and Principal Bernie Campbell said that, despite a 50 percent staff turnover in the past three years, the school’s staff and students remain academically strong.

Still, there is always the push to improve, he said.

“We are good today, but we have to be better tomorrow,” Campbell said, quoting the motto he tells students and staff.

High expectations are not just in math and science classrooms, he added, but also in the arts and physical education.

“Everywhere a student goes, their mindset is always that much is going to be expected of them,” he said, adding that he hopes for some sort of celebration for students. Staff received a lunch and a pajama day last week.

Jim Voelz, principal of Doe Creek Middle School, said his staff and students work hard to create a positive learning atmosphere for students to thrive in, from the arts to sports to academics.

“We just feel like that is the standard for education here at Doe Creek,” Voelz said. “We want to be a four-star school.”

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz said in a news release that she was honored to announce the four-star schools.

“Winning this award is a testament to the excellent work done by teachers, administrators, students and parents throughout the year,” Ritz said. “On behalf of the entire Indiana Department of Education, I send them my sincere congratulations.”

At a glance

The Indiana Department of Education released a list of four-star schools Tuesday. Six local schools reached the status based on the 2013-2014 school year. The honor is based on school letter grades and student ISTEP scores. Here’s a look at the most recent list, and schools that made the list in the recent past.

2013-2014 list: Eden Elementary School; JB Stephens Elementary School; Eastern Hancock High School; Mt. Vernon High School; New Palestine High School; Doe Creek Middle School

2012-2013 list: Eden Elementary School; Harris Elementary School; Weston Elementary School; Eastern Hancock High School; Mt. Vernon High School; New Palestine High School; Doe Creek Middle School

2011-2012 list: Eden Elementary School; Harris Elementary School; Eastern Hancock High School; Mt. Vernon High School; New Palestine High School; Doe Creek Middle School

2010-2011 list: McCordsville Elementary School; New Palestine High School

2009-2010 list: Mt. Comfort Elementary School; Mt. Vernon Middle School; New Palestine High School