School earns state honor: 4-star awards honor county’s top performers

NEW PALESTINE — Another Hancock County school has been recognized as a four-star institution after the Indiana Department of Education released a second list of four-star schools using criteria previously considered for the award.

On their last day of work before summer, one day after students headed home for break, Doe Creek Middle School staff members received some unexpected good news.

When Principal Jim Voelz met with teachers Friday to review end-of-the-year reminders, he told them their hard work had paid off; the state education department listed the New Palestine middle school as one of the state’s top performers — honors the school has received every year since the 2011-12 school year.

The Southern Hancock school was the only local building to be added to the list of four-star schools, which must show excellence in test scores, student progress and more. Eden Elementary School in Greenfield received the nod earlier this month.

Forty-one schools across the state first earned the designation about two weeks ago. The number of schools qualifying as four-star dropped significantly from years prior because the DOE used tougher criteria to evaluate schools, prompting outcry from educators who felt their staff and students’ hard work had been overlooked.

Two weeks later, the department issued a news release announcing a second round of recipients, some 200 more schools that qualified under the former requirements and who the department determined would receive the honor again this year. The change brought the total number of schools qualifying for the designation from 41 to 248.

“After receiving feedback from the field, we re-evaluated our criteria in an effort to ensure we captured all schools deserving of four-star recognition,” a news release states.

The Four-Star School Award was created in 1988 to recognize the state’s best schools. In 2012-13, seven county schools received the designation.

Last year, eight schools were recognized — the most in the past decade — including all four county high schools.

To be named a four-star school, schools must receive an “A” on the state’s A-F accountability system, test well on ISTEP, carry a high graduation rate (at the high school level) and show success in closing achievement gaps.

This year, 80 to 85 percent of students were required to pass the ISTEP for schools to earn the designation.

Previously, schools had to perform in the upper 25th percentile on the exam — historically a lower threshold, officials said.

Voelz said Friday’s news was a pleasant surprise after staff members were disappointed they hadn’t made the first cut.

When Superintendent Lisa Lantrip emailed Voelz to congratulate him, he thought she was joking.

He’d been frustrated the school wasn’t included on the first list, and that was a sore spot, he said.

He thought Lantrip was teasing him.

“I was super excited to get that email,” Voelz said. “We’re a little disappointed it didn’t come sooner.”

Lantrip said the entire district is excited for Doe Creek, which she called an outstanding school that maintains a fun atmosphere while also being caring and supportive of students.

Teachers were able to celebrate a little Friday, though they’ll forego a school-wide celebration since students are out for summer break, Voelz said.

Still, the recognition re-enforces what he’s always known about his school, he said.

Students come every day ready to learn, parents prioritize education and the school is full of great teachers.

“We have one of the best staffs around. They work hard to truly support students,” he said.

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Samm Quinn is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3275 or squinn@greenfieldreporter.com.