Chesterton Tribune


Duneland Schools accreditation plan at five year checkpoint

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Several years ago, Chesterton High School Assistant Principal Kevin Zeck was part of a group who believed the Duneland School Corporation could see itself rise to a level of excellence that many school districts would typically be too afraid to try for.

The group convinced the school board in 2005 there was enough determination to begin a District Accreditation Process that aimed to bring the nine Duneland schools in line with a common goal.

Charged with a mission of “developing lifelong learners who demonstrate responsibility, contribute to their community, and succeed in a changing world,” the Duneland AdvancEd Steering Committee made up of Duneland Superintendent of Schools Dirk Baer, assistant superintendents, parents, teachers and a district internal review team known as DIRT began to work toward the common goal of providing programs and opportunities for students to rise to their potential.

“Think of nine different businesses pulling them in one direction. That’s what we are trying to do,” said Zeck who presented the report at the most recent Duneland School Board meeting.

Assistant Superintendent of Instruction Monte Moffett said before accreditation the schools were like “nine islands” which had some “really nice goals” but were not unified.

Accreditation brought a focus for the schools to work together towards a common goal, Moffett said. “If you can get on the same page, it is much more powerful.”

Everything sticks with DIRT

After deciding to keep the name DIRT which often prompts a few laughs, the team’s main purpose is “to help drive guiding focus on our new action plan and in such ongoing accreditation,” said Zeck.

Consisting of Zeck, Moffett, elementary teacher Sandy Campbell, elementary principal Michael Grubb, intermediate teacher Natalie Loden, intermediate principal Greg Guernsey, middle school teacher Christine Bullock, middle school principal Mike Megyesi, and high school teacher Chris Hackett, DIRT meets with all schools on a yearly basis along with its goal committees to ensure they are in compliance with AdvancEd standards.

DIRT will ask each school how it has been using student data to accomplish its goals and ask them to give what their successes and obstacles are. DIRT is the entity that bears the responsibility for making sure schools are meeting those standards in a way that best suits the community, Zeck said.

After hearing reports, DIRT then issues to each school a list of recommendations and required actions to follow to improve on shortcomings.

For the entire school corporation, DIRT offered accolades for its leadership. The report also complimented school leaders for helping pass last May’s referendum. “The process demonstrated a collaborative effort by all stakeholder groups,” it said.

Suggestions for improvement include establishing “intentional” opportunities for students to participate in computer-based assessments and continue to monitor the Response to Intervention (RtI) program and high-ability initiatives. Actions requiring attention instruct the DSC to provide more professional development opportunities to teachers and coordinate grading and scoring practices to become more consistent among the schools.

Accomplishments so far

Strides in technology during the accreditation process include hiring a district technology director and constructing a five-year road map on technology infrastructure and use.

Parent communication has improved over the last five years through web-pages, online learning opportunities, RDS parent access, Good as Gold and Distinctly Duneland publications, and automated phone calls.

In order to further a collaborative environment in the DSC, Zeck said the group’s focus is to include involvement by all stakeholder groups (parents, teachers, staff, community, etc.). With stakeholders, the process is guided by the community more than the schools.

“We seek however to continue to build partnerships with the local community and parents to find ways to be more efficient with our resources. It gains better support for all programs across the district. Duneland is a community and the schools realize they are just one part of that greater picture,” Zeck said.

In 2012, AdvancEd surveys were conducted in the spring and fall to gauge each Duneland school’s focus on school leadership, instructional techniques, two-way communication, school improvement practices and safety issued.

Having visited other schools, Zeck and Moffett said Duneland shows strength in its ability to involve all the committees’ in the corporation’s decisions.

The visit

Coming up next month, a five-member AdvanceEd review team will spend four days, Feb. 3-6, reviewing Duneland on five AdvanceEd standards.

The review team members are from other schools or corporations that have been accredited by AdvanceEd, Zeck said.

They will meet initially with administrators on the first day, hold interviews with school board members, stakeholders and staff (from cooks to bus drivers) over the following two days, visiting four different DSC schools, and then give an exit report providing a ranking of performance on standards. A written report will arrive about two months later announcing the accreditation results.

Moffett said after the previous review in 2008, Duneland was told by the review team that the school district was “right on point” with the accreditation standards and is expecting similar results this time around.

“There is nothing that we are going to put away or hide. We lay all the cards on the table,” he said.

A new plan

The steering committee has already created a new five-year action plan that will take them to 2018. Goals set include improving the DIRT process, gather more student data, continually work toward and make more time for professional development, make better use of resources and maintain the integrity of the organization, and establish a setting that promotes educational opportunities for the students.

As for the individual goal committees, Zeck said the C-DIRT committee will focus on bully prevention and awareness by educating all stakeholders on how to define differences between harassment and bullying. Also, providing additional support services to deal with these issues as they arise, such as the middle school Students Helping Others program, and methods of ongoing support to both victims and bullies after events occur are other ways for the committee to effectively reach this goal.

The Volunteer Involvement Program committee, formally called the Family and Community Team, will be focused first on finding ways to document volunteer hours in the schools, then set annual goals to meaningfully increase them to benefit student programs and learning.

The District Technology Goal committee will be moving on its next phase of technology integration by having students use technology for learning on a more frequent basis.


Posted 1/18/2013