GREENFIELD — When Greenfield Intermediate School earned a B letter grade from the Department of Education this year, Principal Jim Bever declared a celebration was in order.
Wednesday, the school’s fourth-, fifth-, and sixth-graders, as well as teachers and staff, gathered in the school gym for a pep session-style convocation congratulating them on improved test scores.
Students who earned a pass-plus on the ISTEP test or showed significant growth compared with their scores last year were invited to try their hand at dunking Bever into a ball pit. As colorful balls went flying with each successful throw, the gym erupted into cheers and laughter.
The marks this year were calculated for the first time using a model that’s closely tied to individual student academic growth known as the Indiana Growth Model.
Under the new model, Hancock County schools earned 14 A’s, 4 B’s, 3 C’s and one D.
Bever gathered his students in much the same fashion last year when the news wasn’t so good. Then, the intermediate had been rated a D school when the DOE released its inaugural school accountability ratings under newly enacted Public Law 221.
Wednesday, Bever reminded students of that grim occasion.
“I knew, you knew, your teachers knew all along that you weren’t a D school, but that’s what the test results said,” he said.
Bever then went on to highlight students whose improved scores helped boost the school’s rating.
Among them was Quinneton Matchett, a fifth-grader.
Quinneton showed high growth in English/language arts, Bever said, prompting a chorus of cheers from Quinneton’s classmates.
Quinneton said he remembers being overwhelmed by the news last year that GIS had received a D grade.
“I was just thinking to myself, ‘Wow. This is surprising. I didn’t really know they had grades for schools,’” said Quinneton, 11.
Quinneton was glad to be part of helping raise that grade, which he said he would be in trouble for if he’d personally brought it home on a report card.
“My dad would ground me from my Xbox, my Wii, my PlayStation 3, everything,” he said.
The convocation concluded with staff singing a revamped version of the popular song, “You don’t know you’re beautiful” by One Direction, a tune every kid in the room seemed to know.
With lyrics about improving ISTEP scores, staff encouraged the students to continue setting high goals.
“That excitement’s your motivator,” Bever said. “Most kids, contrary to some popular opinion, aren’t necessarily motivated by grades and achievement. They’re motivated by things they consider to be fun.”
Guidance counselor Kimberly Hunt was among the staff members who performed a choreographed dance, much to the students’ delight.
Hunt said keeping the kids encouraged, regardless of where they fall on the ISTEP continuum, is key.
“I’ve had parents call me and say, ‘My child just came home and told me they didn’t pass ISTEP – is that possible?’” she said. “But then, the next thing out of the child’s mouth is, ‘That’s not gonna happen again. I’m gonna pass this year.’”
Bever points to a combination of things that helped boost school morale, and consequently, its letter grade.
Adjusting to the four-tier system, which included the creation of the corporation’s two intermediate schools and a junior high, was a major hurdle last year, Bever said.
Teachers were working in a new building with new colleagues, and many of them were teaching different grade levels than those they’d taught for years. Coupled with construction that kept teachers out of the building until very shortly before the year started, and it was a recipe for disaster, Bever said.
“We really started under the most adverse of circumstances,” he said. “The whole intermediate concept was new to us. We adjusted to that.”
At the same time staff members congratulated students Wednesday on a job well done, they also raised the bar for next year’s performance.
“We obviously were able to put together a much, much more well-orchestrated effort in our second year, and we have to build on that,” Bever said. “We don’t want to backslide.”