Chesterton Tribune

 

 

Incoming superintendent Ginger Bolinger aims to maintain schools' 'greatness'

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By KEVIN NEVERS

For newly named Superintendent Dr. Ginger Bolinger, the Duneland School Corporation sells itself.

“Duneland is a high-performing school corporation,” Bolinger told the Chesterton Tribune. “The programming is excellent, the students ambitious, and the expectations are very high. The fine arts programs are superb and the corporation is extremely well regarded, both academically and athletically. I’ve never worked in a school corporation before with an International Baccalaureate program. On top of that, the administrators and faculty are student-centered and the facilities are in good shape.”

All of which, Bolinger said, is to be expected in a community which supports its schools with as much commitment as Duneland does. “You don’t find that in every community. Duneland is the outstanding community in Northwest Indiana.”

Bolinger comes to the Duneland Schools after serving a five-year tour as superintendent of Madison Consolidated Schools in Jefferson County, Ind., a rural district roughly half the size of Duneland. Madison Consolidated: 3,000 students, 350 employees, 10 facilities. Duneland: 5,800 students, 775 employees, 11 facilities.

Although Bolinger has served in a larger district--for 10 years, as assistant superintendent for instruction, Marion Community Schools (enrollment: around 5,000 students)--size is not, in and of itself, a telling measure of a school corporation, she said. “Generally you have the same accounts in your budget, the same testing everyone does in the state. What tends to differ is the culture of expectations, outreach, and creativity.”

In that sense the Duneland Schools excel. “The leadership is top notch,” Bolinger said. “The School Board really cares about children, what’s best for them. The students themselves perform at high levels. And the faculty is marvelous. Chesterton High School has a world-class debate team. That speaks to the commitment of teachers who are willing to put the time in. These are people who care about children and want the best for them. My challenge will be to maintain the Duneland Schools’ greatness.”

Madison Consolidated

When she arrived at Madison Consolidated in 2012, Bolinger found a district in financial straits. “We were eating through a $4-million cash balance at $800,000 per year. We were over-staffed. And we had a Rainy Day Fund totaling $67,000.” She’s leaving Madison Consolidated with a Rainy Day Fund of $4.6 million and the ways and means to have provided raises to all employees in each of her five years there.

There were “tough choices” to make, though, Bolinger said. Two under-utilized and unsustainable elementary buildings had to be closed and some RIFs issued. And the failure of a building referendum to raise additional property-tax revenues for new facilities--to replace badly aging ones--made things harder. “There are many individuals in the community who own farm land. Some were on board with the referendum. Some weren’t.”

Madison Consolidated does differ both demographically and academically from Duneland, Bolinger noted: 52 percent of Madison’s students are in the free-and-reduced lunch program, versus 25 percent of Duneland’s; while Madison’s graduation rate is around 90 percent, versus Duneland’s 98 percent.

Yet graduation rates only tell part of the story. “It’s great for children to go to college,” Bolinger said. “But it’s even better if they graduate from college. It’s great for them to go to technical school. But it’s even better if they earn technical certification. We have to think beyond graduation. We have to make sure students have a plan before they graduate.”

Thus Bolinger is proud of Madison Consolidated’s partnership with Ivy Tech, through which participating students are able to earn enough Transfer General Education Core credits to graduate from high school with their first year of college complete.

Challenges Going Forward

Coming to Duneland, Bolinger points specifically to two challenges on the superintendent’s horizon. The first: funding and the budget, as the operating referendum which passed by the narrowest of margins in 2012 is due to expire after 2018. ”There is a need for another referendum,” Bolinger said. “We need to help the public understand why another will be needed, why the funding won’t be there for the programs we offer.”

The second challenge: the terrific pace of change, pedagogical and otherwise, in the classroom. “There’s an enormous amount of change in education,” Bolinger said. “Technology. Curriculum. Best-practices instructions. Changes in state testing requirements. We need to support our students as they ride this rollercoaster ride. And we have to make sure our students have the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) skills they need to be successful.”

But students aren’t the only ones on a rollercoaster ride, Bolinger added. “We need to keep the noise of change away from our classrooms so our teachers can concentrate on education.”

Faculty

Bolinger is aware of last fall’s protracted--and at times tense--contract negotiations with the Duneland Teachers Association. And another round of negotiations is just around the corner, as the teachers’ one-year contract expires on June 30.

But, Bolinger suggested, “a lot of times past performance points to future performance,” and she believes her relationship with faculty at Madison Consolidated was a fruitful and positive one. “I was a teacher myself and know the demands on a teacher’s time and work. In my five years at Madison there was a raise every year for all employees. I have been able to negotiate contracts very quickly. I would very much like to be a leader in that area.”

The Drug Problem

Bolinger is aware too of the drug problem in Porter County. There’s a “terrible” one in Jefferson County as well, she said. “There’s been a number of overdoses in Madison, not of students but of millennials in the community, and of the parents of some our children.” And, Bolinger noted, Austin, Ind., the epicenter of an HIV outbreak in 2015 related to intravenous drug use, is only 30 minutes from Madison.

So far, though, no one’s invented a magic bullet to keep kids clean or to get them clean. Substance abuse is a social problem, a family problem, a public-health problem, and a law-enforcement problem, Bolinger said, and to the extent that it’s an educational problem, school districts have a vital role of their own to play, but only in partnership with other stakeholders. “Schools are a microcosm of our community. Schools alone can’t solve all of our problems but they can partner with the community to help solve them.”

Transparency

Parents and taxpayers alike, Bolinger understands, are justifiably concerned about the internal operations and the expenditures of their school district. For that reason transparency has been the watchword of her administration at Madison Consolidated. “We try to be more than transparent,” she said. “We never want to hear ‘They’re not telling us everything.’ We try to get ahead of that, as opposed to not saying anything until we’re asked. I’ve had a very good relationship with the local newspaper.”

Duneland’s ethic of transparency, Bolinger is confident, is no different from Madison Consolidated’s. “We’re only going to do those things we’re allowed to by law,” she said. “We’re going to do the right thing every time. And we’re going to be transparent.”

Public Comment

On the other hand, Bolinger supports the Duneland School Board’s policy of not accepting unvetted, unscheduled public comment at its meetings. “School board meetings are not public meetings but meetings conducted in public,” she said. “When members of the public speak at a meeting, their comments have to be agenda-specific.”

In any case, personnel matters--the subject which parents are most likely interested in raising to the School Board in the first place--are simply not appropriate for a public meeting, Bolinger said. “If parents have a concern about a teacher, there is a chain of command. Speak to the teacher. Then to the assistant principal or principal. Then to an assistant superintendent. Then to the superintendent. The process works well, and usually the parent can resolve the issue at the teacher-level.”

Charter Schools

Bolinger has nothing specific to say about the Discovery Charter School. She did, however, watch between 100 and 120 students at Madison Consolidated leave her district in her first year there for the Canaan Community Academy, a charter school sponsored by Ball State University.

“Our school board was pretty upset about it,” Bolinger said. “I know we all have to work together in the field of education.”

Living in Duneland

Bolinger said she has any number of reasons to be thrilled by her new position: the excellence of the Duneland Schools, the caliber of the students, the creativity of the teachers. But she and her husband are thrilled too to live in Duneland itself, with its high quality of life, its many amenities, and its proximity to Chicago.

“We’re just really excited to be part of this community.”

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NOTE:

Correction on spelling of new superintendent’s name

In its two-story, 60-odd column inch coverage of the newly tapped Duneland Schools Superintendent, the Chesterton Tribune consistently misspelled her name. She is Dr. Ginger Bolinger. The Tribune regrets its mistake. The story above has been corrected.

 

Posted 5/17/2017 (Corrected 5/18/2017

 
 
 
 

 

 

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