‘Talk of the town’

U.S. education chief visits Eastern Hancock

CHARLOTTESVILLE — Jayme Cool-Luke didn’t miss his chance.

With friends egging him on from behind, the Eastern Hancock mascot shimmied up to Betsy DeVos.

Friday night, the lion suit-clad senior showed the U.S. Secretary of Education how Royals get down.

DeVos visited Hancock County to end her four-day Rethink Education tour, during which she also traveled to Wyoming, Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas and Missouri, highlighting unique ways educators are meeting the needs of every student. A staunch supporter of school choice, her tour mostly included visits to charter schools and academies.

She started her Indiana journey in Gary, visiting 21st Century Charter School, then traveled to the Hope Academy in Indianapolis.

Friday night, she visited the 1,200-student school corporation on Hancock County’s east side, enjoying small-town living at its finest: homemade pulled pork and apple crisp, followed by a front-row seat to Friday night lights.

There were no speeches, no planned discussions. The evening was reserved for fellowship and a warm welcome  for Devos and her husband, Dick DeVos.

(Which meant denying some picnic attendees their apple crisp, so there was enough left for the late-arriving guests of honor.)

The Eastern Hancock FFA Club hosts its hog roast annually, buying two local pigs to roast and pulling the pork themselves. The event serves as the club’s largest fundraising of the year.

Turnout is usually good, said senior Gracie Johnson, the organization’s president, but this year, the room was even fuller.

She and her fellow students found out Thursday they’d have a special guest. They were told to save her a clean table — and some apple crisp.

As soon as news spread Thursday afternoon, Johnson’s phone starting lighting up, she said. Everyone wanted to know if it was true.

“It’s been the talk of the town,” she said.

Eastern Hancock Superintendent Vicki McGuire said she’s known since August DeVos would be visiting Eastern Hancock, but she wasn’t allowed to tell anyone. She was sworn to secrecy, unable to share details of her visit until Thursday when official notification was given to the press.

Her visit gave the corporation a chance to spotlight its great programs and supportive community, McGuire said.

As DeVos sat down to dinner with students and staff, she chatted with them about how Eastern prepares its students for the future.

DeVos said she chose Eastern Hancock because it’s clear the district is meeting the needs of all its learners, and it welcomes many transfer students — accounting for some 20 percent of the student body — allowing parents to choose the best education for their child.

“It’s a great opportunity to visit a school that’s doing right on behalf of kids and to meet some of the folks involved with that and just to say thanks for what they’re doing,” she said.

It probably didn’t hurt that the father of one of DeVos’ staff members is a Royal grad, added McGuire.

DeVos spent time meeting parents, teachers and students, and she even encouraged their curiosity. Their questions seemed unending. Did you like the pulled pork? How did you get here? Why did you choose Eastern Hancock?

“It’s a great school,” she told one eager group of elementary-schoolers that swarmed her near the football field.

Then she joined the the student section, dancing with Cool-Luke and his friends as they cheered their team down the field.

The district set up a hospitality tent in the end zone to welcome DeVos and give her a chance to meet with educators from both school districts and hear about their experiences, what works in their classrooms and the challenges they face.

And as the sun started to set, she darted away briefly and raised her smartphone to the sky to capture a Hoosier sunset.

And before the night was over, she switched teams, heading to the Knightstown fan section to meet with Eastern Hancock’s neighbor and rival.

The hog roast and football game gave DeVos the opportunity to see how the small, public school district operates and meet the community of people who support it, McGuire said.

A front-row seat to Friday night on the football field and a pulled-pork sandwich was a fitting way to introduce DeVos to Eastern Hancock, McGuire said.

“You can’t get more American that that,” she said.

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