Monday, May 2, 2016

A group of Chamberlain Elementary School teachers work together during a training session to learn about teaching STEM lessons. The group of teachers worked in Goshen Wednesday, July 30, 2014. (Jennifer Shephard/The Elkhart Truth)
Back to school means back to work on education

Posted on Aug. 2, 2014 at 9:58 p.m.

As the start of the 2014-15 school year approaches, education initiatives are being tested and two recent stories show that not every effort passes.

Ivy Tech Community College is closing the Potentials Unlimited Learning Lab after seven years. The potential was there, but only 15 students had signed up for classes this fall, compared to 272 in 2007.

The state of Indiana picked five counties to get $2 million each in state funding for pre-kindergarten pilot programs. Elkhart County was being considered, but didn’t get the money as Horizon Education Alliance officials hoped it would.

The news heading into the school year could be better for the county, but all is not lost.

Education, like industry and businesses, is being challenged to do things differently. Disruptive forces are prompting those in education to think in new ways about how to educate and train the next generation of workers.

Props to Ivy Tech for making a change when a program wasn’t being as successful. Though there may be more to the story about why it failed, PULL wasn’t attracting students and the state community college opted out in the same way a business would if a product wasn’t selling.

Horizon Education Alliance leaders tried to get state money to come here and it didn’t happen. The reality is that the Elkhart County Community Foundation, which heavily supports HEA heavily, has resources that can be put to use in Elkhart County on this front. Presented with the right proposal, the foundation could help establish a countywide program to prepare preschool students for their education careers. That program could be tailored to what we need in Elkhart County, which may not be what Allen, Jackson, Lake, Marion and Vanderburgh counties need.

Two of the largest school systems in Elkhart County got referendums passed in May. Elkhart Community Schools is paying for safety upgrades from its $47 million, among many other things. Concord is able to maintain class sizes and continue to bus students as it has.

As students in those districts and others in Elkhart County return to school, will it be business as usual?

The 2013-14 school year had its share of distractions with the focus on the needed funding, some personnel issues that resulted in news coverage and political wrangling at the state level.

As hard-working and dedicated teachers go to work, we need them to be able to focus on educating our students, on using technology in new ways or, at the very least, the ways it’s being used on college campuses and in workplaces.

Students need committed parents and wise educators. They need to be held accountable for performance and celebrated when they do well. Community mentors and volunteers can help. Agencies such as the Boys & Girls Clubs of Elkhart County can too.

Students go back to class as early as Aug. 7 after a summer break that will have felt too short for many. It’s time to get back to work. It’s time to crack not just the books, but the technology that continues to change and change how we take in information.

Students must ready to jump in. Educators must be ready to lead and change at the same time, not just do what’s always been done. Administrators in those school systems must be prepared to assure the safety and well-being of its students and employees, emphasize the basics that won’t change, but imagine new ways to inspire, educate and achieve. That will take listening to the community in new ways. Business leaders who are frustrated need to get involved. Educators who have often said, “We got this,” now need to listen to those leaders more carefully and follow through.

This community’s ongoing success depends on getting better at how we prepare its students, how we help them become good workers and how we carry out new ways of doing that.

Elkhart County pulled together to rise from the Great Recession. Now it’s time to look at education in the same entrepreneurial way and create what helps us move forward.