A Day to Remember in Evansville

evilleArmed with my Starbuck’s latte, I stepped out into the cold. It was mid-January and I was headed to Evansville to conduct interviews for our education/workforce development issue of BizVoice® magazine.

I started the day around 7 a.m. and didn’t pull into my driveway until shortly after 7 p.m. that evening. You know what? It was worth it. In fact, it was unforgettable.

First up: Ivy Tech’s College Connection Coach initiative. The program places Ivy Tech employees in high schools to promote a culture of college attainment and to provide career counseling and advisement. Launched last fall, it stresses collaboration with guidance counselors, administrators and teachers.

Carrie Feltis, a College Connection Coach in the Evansville Vanderburgh School Corporation, spends two days a week at both Central and Harrison High Schools. While visiting Central, I watched her interact with a senior named Lindsey, with whom she’s worked closely. What a rapport! They shared laughs – lots of them – and proudly conveyed Lindsey’s many accomplishments. Among them: She’ll be the first member of her family to graduate from high school.

Next was a visit to Ivy Tech Community College-Southwest/Wabash Valley Region hosted by chancellor Jonathan Weinzapfel, a former state legislator and Evansville mayor. He passionately expressed the importance of the program and its potential impact in leading students down a path that includes postsecondary education.

Then it was time to dive into my next story. It was time to step into Signature School.

Signature, the state’s first charter school, is nationally recognized for its challenging curriculum and unique culture. Located in downtown Evansville, its close proximity to libraries, the YMCA, the Evansville Philharmonic Orchestra and more provides the backdrop for learning beyond the doors of Signature’s two buildings.

Executive Director Jean Hitchcock beamed as we stepped into dynamic classrooms and met the people who create Signature’s success. The teachers are passionate. The students are spirited. It’s a tight-knit team that lives by the Signature Way.

If there’s one word to sum up my impressions of Signature, it’s this: brilliant.

Brilliant minds. Brilliant opportunities. That’s Signature.

Brinegar Speaks on School Choice and Charter School Legislation

The state Legislature passed two sweeping education reforms on Wednesday. Indiana Chamber President Kevin Brinegar comments on their significance:

School Choice Scholarships (HB 1003)
"For too long, thousands of Indiana children from low- and middle-income families have been trapped in assigned public schools that too often fail to provide the desired level of education. Now parents will be able to redirect a portion of state dollars assigned to their children’s education to a school that better fits their children’s needs. This will give those students a better chance for success in school and throughout their lives."

Charter Schools (HB 1002)
"We’ve seen some great charter school successes like Signature School in Evansville and the Challenge Foundation Academy in Indianapolis. By strengthening the charter school law to create more accountability for the authorization process and performance review, the number of quality options for parents and their children will increase. The law also permits under-used public school facilities to be utilized by charter schools, which is a win for taxpayers and prospective students."

Chamber Names Indiana’s ‘Best Buy’ Schools

Chamber officials are traveling the state today (and tomorrow) recognizing the schools that warranted our "Best Buy" label this year. See below for a description of the award and this year’s honorees (and view the full report here):

For 2009, 135 public high schools were designated as a "best buy" for giving taxpayers the most value for their money.  Two methods determined this honor. A school was named a best buy if it had a quality index above the state median and revenues below the statewide median of $10,179 per student. The second method was by having a quality index ranking that was 20% higher than the school’s revenue ranking.

In addition, from the best buy group, 26 high schools were given the "honor roll" distinction for excelling academically despite having at-risk student demographics above the statewide median. For their exemplary efforts, the top five schools from the best buy and honor roll lists were then selected as "head of the class" members.

The 2009 "head of the class" selections are:

– Adams Central High School in Monroe (Adams County);
– Forest Park Jr.-Sr. High School in Ferdinand (Dubois County);
– North Central High School in Indianapolis (Marion County);
– Northwestern High School in Kokomo (Howard County);
– Plainfield High School (Hendricks County);
– Plymouth High School (Marshall County);
– Signature School in Evansville (Vanderburgh County).
– South Adams Jr.-Sr. High School in Berne (Adams County);
– Triton Jr.-Sr. High School in Bourbon (Marshall County); and
– Warsaw Community High School (Kosciusko County).

Present an Award; Accept the Boos

Over the last two days, the Indiana Chamber visited eight of the 10 Head of the Class schools identified in the annual Indiana’s Best Buys report. (Mother Nature interfered with two trips scheduled for Wednesday).

Chamber education expert Derek Redelman gets the road warrior award for a Tuesday itinerary that took him to Signature School in Evansville, nearby Castle and across the southern part of the state to North Harrison. President Kevin Brinegar stayed closer to home with North Central (Indianapolis) and Hamilton Southeastern presentations.

I ended up with a Batesville-Monroe Central doubleheader — both schools I had visited under different circumstances. For Monroe Central in Parker City, it was covering high school basketball games as part of my sportswriting role prior to coming to the Chamber. I was able to share a few basketball tales and names from the past with the current staff.

Batesville, though, is where things were most interesting. While I was born a mere minute away from the town’s high school at the local hospital, the students gathered for the announcement focused on the fact that I went to school at rival East Central. They expressed their vocal displeasure, but I won them back by telling them their school earned a majority of the basketball victories in matchups between their Bulldogs and my Trojans during my prep days.

Another note: First-year Batesville Principal Tim Stephens deserves kudos as he was the leader at Hauser (a Best Buy honoree each of the last two years). While the report measures high school performance, Stephens pointed out that it is really an award for the entire district.

Rounding out the top 10 are Center Grove and Rushville. Congratulations to all.

View current and past Best Buys reports, along with this year’s press release.