Chesterton Tribune



School board OKs partnerships with Parents As Teachers Porter Starke

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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 elementary schools.

Director of 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.”

Ready Set 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 pathway.

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.

In related 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 Presentation

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 climate.

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.

The Student 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.”

Other Business

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 who sign-up.

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.

McDermott reported 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.


Posted 3/4/2020






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