'Tomorrow today' for HCCSC schools starting Thursday

Huntington County Community School Corporation's superintendent of schools, Tracey Shafer, sits at his desk in the Administrative Service Center recently.
Huntington County Community School Corporation's superintendent of schools, Tracey Shafer, sits at his desk in the Administrative Service Center recently. Photo by Jessica Williams.

The official start of Huntington county schools is Thursday, Aug. 13, and the year will be full of both new and old.

Huntington County Community School Corporation's Superintendent of Schools Tracey Shafer says the image of the corporation has undergone a "rebranding," with a new logo and an updated tagline. The previous tagline of "A place where everyone learns" has been replaced by "Tomorrow today."

Shafer says this focuses on teaching students today what they will need to meet tomorrow's challenges in the world. They will also learn fresh concepts, learn differently, relearn what they have already learned and learn how to do these things fluidly, he says.

Also, the corporation is in the process of redesigning its Web pages, although this process won't be done until late fall.

Some other changes in the schools will be visible as well.

"I think (the community) will see a greater focus on our mission and vision for the corporation," Shafer says. He adds it will not happen over night, but teachers will be very "intentional" in their instruction.

The way teachers teach has become a key point this school year.

"We continue to do more and improved strategic planning, with all of our efforts instructionally across the corporation. Those are things that may not be quite as visible to the community," Shafer says.

The corporation also made a commitment to implement full-time kindergarten this year.

This year will present many opportunities for high school students, he adds.

"Huntington North has done a very nice job of creating additional vocationally and career based opportunities for students there," he says. Shafer says a new cosmetology program is set to begin this year, and the program is already full.

This will be the second year for the welding program offered in conjunction with adult education. Freshmen will also be exposed to career orientations.

An animal science class has finally drawn enough students to be offered at HNHS. Shafer says the addition of the class in the curriculum was approved a few years back, but not enough students were interested in signing up for it until now. A textbook was approved at the July 20 meeting.

Although a new schedule for the high school has been discussed, the school will continue to use a seven-period day.

Another opportunity being given to some Huntington North students, and Huntington citizens, is a Career Fair in late September for freshmen and sophomores (juniors and seniors must be approved to take part in this).

Participants will be able to walk through the fair and get information on different careers in the area.

Some programs that have been discussed at HCCSC Board of Trustees meetings this summer are still being researched, but one will begin to take shape this year.

"Algebra That Works," an Algebra I program that helps students master necessary skills for Geometry and Algebra II prior to moving on to new topics, will start this year at HNHS.

"I believe the high school's plans are to be able to implement that program this fall. That's a program that starts slowly," Shafer says. At the beginning, he explains, nothing will appear to be new, but at the second nine weeks teachers will begin to see a change without a difference being noted from students. At this point, planning for teachers becomes different because students who have not mastered the first nine weeks' skills must be relocated in other classes so they can continue to improve on these skills, while the other students move on. It's about catching the students up, Shafer says.

The "New Tech" high school program is still being looked into. This will allow technology to be utilized as much as possible for certain classrooms. It is being modeled off of the program Wayne High School in Fort Wayne, which some school officials visited the high school recently to see the program.

"There's a lot of work happening behind the scenes right now," Shafer says, regarding looking into outside funding that will prepare them for the experience. He hopes to see the program in the works by the fall of 2010.

Also discussed this summer for the high school were the "small learning communities," with one possible "community" being New Tech.

"Small learning communities, we know from research and experience, is one of the best approaches educationally. But there are two ways you can do small learning communities; you can just literally create (them) in your building and say that's what we are going to do, or you can sort of grow them and develop them over time, and that would be more of our approach in New Tech," Shafer says.

"We see that as being a great model for future small learning communities. Our hopes would be to start with New Tech and then grow that over time to different areas of the building," he adds; such as science, technology, engineering, math, fine arts and other different points; where the curriculum is different, but the instruction would basically be the same.

Another ongoing discussion being tackled by the corporation and area churches is the "By the Book" religious education program.

Shafer says the Associated Churches is working on a plan to continue on as many sites as it can off of the HCCSC campus.

"I think they are making some headway in terms of having those locations identified," he adds.

Despite the ongoing discussion around the state of budgets being cut, Shafer says he will not get an estimate for 2010's budget until this week (the state budget convention is usually held in June, but this year it is being held in mid-August).

"That's how far behind we are in budget preparation," Shafer says of Indiana schools.

He also says HCCSC hasn't really overspent its money either. "We will continue to be conservative in our spending.

"We hope local property tax comes in at a rate that we can sustain current programming. In terms of state monies that largely fund our general fund, we expect to get ... little to no new monies."

The lack of funding could cause concern for cuts in programs for students, but Shafer assures that that is not something HCCSC is looking at.

"Right now, we're not planning on taking away any programs. That's one of the last things we want to do is cut programming for kids."

He says the way the corporation is staffed and how it's funded is getting creative though.

"In the proverbial shell game, there aren't any new shells in this game; we simply have to rearrange the shells already on the table and figure out how to pay for the programs we have and make sure that the focus on our spending is on instructional support, and it is, and that's where it will continue to be," Shafer says.

He says a good example of this "rearranging of shells" is a Spanish elective being offered at Riverview Middle School and Salamonie School. Also, libraries are now staffed with "media clerks" instead of "librarians" and that money left over will fund a reading program in the middle schools.

"We look for places to cut unnecessary spending and try to reallocate those funds to make sure the programming is in place for the kids," he adds.

Shafer says the overall state ofthe schools going into the 2009-10 school year is "good and getting better."