Superintendent’s Corner: How new state superintendent can affect our schools

By LAURA HAMMACK, guest columnist

The results of the election that took place on Nov. 8 will surely have an impact on education policy in the state of Indiana and across the nation.

One such impact that is of great interest to our school district is the election of a new state superintendent of public instruction, Jennifer McCormick.

McCormick is currently a district superintendent in Yorktown Community Schools. While campaigning, she issued a “Lesson Plan for Indiana” that contains five key objectives for the Indiana Department of Education.

I thought it would be helpful to our community to unpack those objectives and translate their potential application in Brown County Schools.

The first objective in McCormick’s “Lesson Plan for Indiana” is to “work with stakeholders to review school funding issues.” As you know from previous columns by both former Superintendent David Shaffer and me, this is an issue of significant concern to our school district.

We are a rural school district that is experiencing a decline in student enrollment. Because of this decline, our general fund dollars have been negatively impacted by nearly $500,000. A thorough review of the school funding formula that pays specific attention to school districts with high poverty indicators and declining enrollments is of critical concern for our school district.

The second objective is “establish and administer a statewide assessment system and accountability system which are both meaningful and manageable and centered on our children.”

This is a very exciting initiative. The ISTEP+ scores from the spring assessment were recently made public across the state of Indiana. We have grave concerns about the quality and validity of the current assessment and also find no value in the data that is issued to the district nearly six months after the students have taken the assessment. A “pass” or “did not pass” indication gives no genuine feedback that is of use for our educators when the students who took the assessment are nearly halfway through their next school year and are possibly in a new school altogether.

The current assessment system in Indiana is broken. We are encouraged that the assessment plan will be one that meets the indicators identified within this objective.

Third, “increase Indiana’s broadband and network capacity so all children can access a 21st-century education.” This couldn’t be more welcome to hear in Brown County!

We are so grateful to our community partners who are actively working to secure more access to broadband across our county. If this objective is achieved in our county, our students will be able to use their devices at home and at school, having a comprehensive impact on their ability to interact with their global learning community. This is an exciting initiative that we have never seen from the Department of Education. We are hopeful that a strong focus at the state level will result in increased access in Brown County.

The fourth objective is “attract and retain Indiana’s quality teachers.” Being a rural school district, we are competing more often with metropolitan school districts for high-quality teachers. Because our teacher salaries aren’t as competitive as some area school districts, we have lost high-quality educators to competing districts or we have lost them to the field of education altogether.

We don’t see as many teacher candidates graduating from institutions of higher learning, which translates into smaller pools of applicants. We are looking forward to learning more about the strategies for attracting and retaining more teachers to the workforce that will be deployed by this administration.

The final objective is “close the kindergarten readiness gap.” We know in Brown County that the way to do this is high-quality preschool.

We are hopeful that this objective will ultimately indicate increased allocations for high-quality early-childhood education opportunities within our public schools. We are absolutely convinced that our preschool programming allows for the boys and girls to be ready to learn and successful in kindergarten. Without this intervention, the readiness gap for kindergarten would be significant.

When I read the five objectives that McCormick issued within her lesson plan, I was excited to see how much they aligned with our current district initiatives.

Understand that we are committed to continuing the great work that is happening in Brown County Schools, no matter what is taking place in the Statehouse; however, we are very hopeful that the proposed objectives are implemented and that the educational benefit conferred upon our boys and girls is significant.

Laura Hammack is superintendent of Brown County schools. She can be reached at lhammack@brownco.k12.in.us or 812-988-6601.