By LILY REX
The Duneland School
Board approved a number of agreements to partner with organizations that
could improve offerings for students at its meeting Monday night.
First, the Board
approved a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Parents As Teachers of
Porter County to bring Ready Set Kindergarten to all five Duneland
Curriculum and Instruction Christy Jarka said the partnership was
recommended by an action team of teachers and administrators. “We recognize
the need for early learning and that learning really begins at birth,” Jarka
said. “I want to note this is not to replace any area preschools but to
build on the strength of those.”
Kindergarten will allow four-year-olds to get a feel for school by coming
into Duneland schools once a week. Children must be four-years old by Aug.
1, 2020 to go into Ready Set Kindergarten in 2021.
Next, the Board
approved an MOU with Equal Opportunity Schools (EOS). CHS principal Brent
Martinson said EOS works with over 600 students in 30 states to make sure
high school students have access to college level instruction that will
prepare them for life after graduation. Martinson said 70 to 80 percent of
CHS students are ready for college level work by junior year, and EOS will
help Duneland staff identify underrepresented groups of students and
barriers they face, then facilitate workshops and coaching so staff can
effectively use data to “dig deep” and help every student at CHS find a
The Board also
approved an MOU with Porter-Starke. Assistant Superintendent Robert
McDermott said Duneland is entering the partnership looking to expand its
mental health services for students by bringing trained staff from
Porter-Starke into the schools. McDermott said he anticipates a slow
roll-out of the program this spring and full implementation in the fall.
Board member Alayna Lightfoot Pol and Vice-president Ron Stone were excited
and said the partnership has been a long-time coming.
business, the Board approved a mutual aid agreement for crisis counseling
with Portage Township Schools and Valparaiso Community Schools. “We hope to
never have to use this agreement; however, we believe it is important to
have it in place if a situation ever arises that overwhelms our available
mental health services,” McDermott said. He added that Porter-Starke has
also pledged to aid in those situations.
CMS Principal Mike
Hamacher gave a presentation on goings-on and new initiatives at CMS.
Hamacher said the new ILEARN test last year hit CMS hard, as it did almost
everywhere, but CMS has made some specific plans to improve next time.
Hamacher said staff
noticed students struggled with new testing processes and multi-tiered
questions that required more testing stamina, so some CMS policies on
retaking tests and credit for late homework have been tightened in hopes of
improving student accountability. Staff also hopes to keep students in
consistent testing environments next time. For example, students would take
the English/Language Arts portion of the test in their English classes and
the Math portion in their Math classes.
Another thing going
is stakeholder surveys about how CMS can improve. Hamacher said both parents
and students said teachers and extracurriculars were positives at CMS, but
the groups also agreed hallway supervision and anti-bully efforts could be
improved. Parents also said they’d appreciate better communication and
friendliness from staff. Staff said they’d appreciate more opportunities for
collaboration and professional development, and noted a negative school
In response to the
surveys, staff have increased hallway supervision, and Hamacher is pushing
himself and other staff for better listening and servant leadership. A big
success for students he highlighted is the Student Assistance Team.
Assistance team (SAT) was formed after 411 students (nearly half the CMS
student body) said in a survey that they didn’t feel like they had one
trusted adult at CMS who they could go to for help. Hamacher said there was
a major shift after the SAT began a mentorship program to reach those
students who felt isolated. “We recently surveyed them again, and now only
100 students said No’.”
Board member John
Marshall praised Hamacher for the improvements in the climate at CMS.
“You’re well on your way to making it better than it was in the past,” he
said. Pol added, “I’m out in the community quite a bit, and I’ve heard
nothing but positive things are happening at CMS.”
The Board approved
the annual CMS eighth grade trip to Washington D.C. The trip will be
supervised by several CMS staff members and limited to the first 50 students
The Board approved
various policy updates and new policies to coincide with changes in state
law and updates from NEOLA, the Ohio-based company that provides policies to
Duneland and many other schools across the Midwest.
a change to Policy 5111, the policy that determines legal settlement in the
district as it pertains to whether or not students outside Duneland can
attend Duneland Schools. Currently, Duneland is a closed district, but the
children of certain employees can attend even if they live out of district.
McDermott said the
policy was changed to reflect that an “employee” for the purposes of the
policy is any person contracted to provide full-time educational services at
Duneland whose salary exceeds $8,000. The change makes the children of
Porter County Education Services employees who work at Duneland eligible to
attend, according to McDermott.