GREENFIELD – Seven Hancock County schools have been recognized by the Indiana Department of Education as having Four Star status for the 2012-13 school year.
The DOE has labeled 311 out of 2,016 eligible schools statewide for the honor.
The methodology used to determine which schools are recognized is rigorous. It rewards schools that perform in the upper 25th percentile on ISTEP and end-of-course assessment exams, as well as their rating determined by the federal Adequate Yearly Progress standards under the No Child Left Behind law.
A look at the ratings over the past four years indicates county schools are heading in the right direction.
In 2009-10, three county schools reached Four Star status, and only two were honored in 2010-11. In 2011-12, the number increased to six; and in 2012-13, it jumped to seven.
Eden Elementary school Principal Joey Johnson gathered his students and staff Tuesday morning to announce the honor, one they’ve earned two years in a row.
“It’s really exciting because it is hard to make it two years in a row because you have to improve,” Johnson said.
Eden, Harris and Weston elementary schools in Greenfield earned Four Star status, indicating remediation programs are starting to pay off, educators say.
“Going to the four-tier school set-up where we have kindergarten through third grade together has allowed us to focus on early learners,” Johnson said. “Adding literacy coaches has also been a factor for our elementary schools, and the curriculum direction under (Associated Superintendent) Ann Vail has made a huge difference.”
Harris Elementary Principal Jan Kehrt agrees. Her school, like Eden, made the list for a second year in a row.
“We have such determined students and a hard-working, dedicated staff,” Kehrt said. “That includes our Title 1 and ReadUp programs. We really think that has helped our students excel.”
Weston Elementary Principal Stephen Burt said he’s glad to see his school earn the honor as well.
“We were close the year before that,” Burt said. “We are just constantly working as a group trying to improve our students.”
New Palestine High School won the honor for the fourth year in a row.
“There was a year in there where they kind of changed the formula and we didn’t make it, but we are eight out of 10 and four in a row, and that makes us pretty happy,” Principal Keith Fessler said.
He credits parents, teachers and the students for putting in the work to lift the school to statewide and national attention with the Four Star and Blue Ribbon recognition.
Doe Creek Middle School also earned the honor for a second straight year. Principal Jim Voelz said it takes a combination of a staff teaching the standards and a home life for students with nurturing parents.
“We are also lucky in that we’ve got the same teachers year in and year out,” Voelz said. “We have not had a lot of turnover.”
Students also take the testing seriously, he said.
“That is half the battle,” Voelz said. “Having the students doing the best they can and having them motivated to do well.”
Eastern Hancock High School also achieved the honor for the second straight year. .
“That is pretty impressive,” Principal Dave Pfaff said.
He said the recognition is not simply a high school honor, but one that reflects well for the whole district.
“This is a true reflection on the people who are working with the kids to get them to this point,” he said. “It’s a group award.”
While Pfaff wouldn’t say whether he liked the formula for identifying Four Star schools, he said the list does validate what schools are trying to accomplish in an era of benchmark testing.
“Its confirmation of what we believe,” Pfaff said. “We’re always looking for ways to get better, and this is a pretty coveted honor from the Department of Education. This is the highest award the DOE grants.”
While Pfaff did call the qualifications for earning Four Star status fair because it is the same for all schools, he wants to remind people: It’s not all-encompassing.
“A Four Star school says that your kids are performing well in the subjects being measured… But there is a lot more that we want schools to accomplish with our kids.”
Mt. Vernon High School was that district’s lone Four Star recipient. It marked the second year in a row the school was recognized for the honor.
Principal Bernie Campbell said the distinction proves school officials are raising expectations. “We have a staff that overcomes a lot to do what is best for the kids in the classroom on a regular basis,” Campbell said. “It takes a great effort by everyone. If the adults do what they are supposed to the students will follow suit and do what they need to be doing in the classroom.”